Proper names have been used in some cases to protect identity.
No one in Russia wants a war, says Ekaterina, a 25-year master’s degree student at the Moscow University of Economics.
“Everyone is very worried that there will be a third world war and everyone hopes that the conflict will be resolved peacefully,” she told Al Jazeera by telephone from the Russian capital, as tensions around Ukraine show no signs of weakening.
“Recently, more and more people are becoming more upset by how Russia and the Russians present themselves in most foreign media, as villains or some poor, weak-willed people or drunkards. It’s just not true. “
For Roman, a 53-year-old businessman, the current crisis is far from new.
He is from a town known as Gorlovka in Russian and Horlovka in Ukrainian, in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), ruled by Russian-backed separatists but now living in Moscow.
“There is shelling [there] “Every day,” he said. “I talk a lot with my former classmates in Donetsk, and they say that Ukrainians shoot at Donbass every day,” he added, referring to the conflict area where the DNR is located.
As Western forces worried about the significant build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, fearing that Moscow was planning an attack, DNR officials recently said that nearly 120,000 Ukrainian troops were stationed near the line of contact with Donbass, and increasingly militarily equipment arrives every day.
“People in Donbass have a negative opinion of Ukraine’s leadership,” Roman said. If they shot every day, how would you feel?
Roman says his brother, a separatist fighter, was killed in 2017 while hiding another fighter from mortar fire.
“He was 42. He died on January 8, my birthday,” he said. “He was in the separatist militia from the very beginning.
Roman is convinced that if there is military action in Donbass, Russia is more likely to attack Ukraine.
But he hopes that common sense will prevail and that a full-scale war can be avoided.
While Russia has repeatedly said it has no military projects for Ukraine, these denials have done little to allay Western concerns.
NATO members have sent military equipment to support Kiev, and Western forces led by Washington and London have tightened threats of sanctions if Moscow takes a step forward.
Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov said recently that in the last few years, the West has claimed that Russia has invaded Ukraine “at least 21 or 25 times.”
“We have a joke,” he said, “that when Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, they came across Russian troops that entered Ukraine in 2014.
According to Maxim Suchkov, acting director of the Institute for International Studies at Moscow’s MGIMO University, “Russia’s military deployment along the Ukrainian border is not currently for invading Ukraine.”
“There are no clear political goals behind this intervention. And I have not heard anyone explain clearly what the political goals could be, because in the end, wars are fought to achieve certain political goals, not just for hell. “
He believes there are two possible motives for Russia’s accumulation – to deter Kiev from further offensives in the separatist Donbass and to force the West to eventually accept its security proposals.
Last December, Russia sent a list of demands for security guarantees to the United States, saying their implementation would de-escalate the crisis.
Above all, it wants NATO to permanently block Ukraine from becoming a member. The Kremlin is also calling for a halt to NATO exercises near Russia’s and NATO borders to withdraw from Eastern Europe.
Moscow received answers from the United States and NATO on Wednesday, which it said did not answer these key questions.
Evgeny Popov, a member of the Russian State Duma, said the possible expansion of NATO to Ukraine was intended to put “additional pressure on Russia”.
“[Our demands] “Conditions are needed to ensure the safety and security of our citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.
“A NATO country armed with ballistic missiles on our borders is a direct threat to our citizens.
According to Russia, its security requirements are non-negotiable.
“The threats have already become tangible,” Popov said. “Never before have there been so many NATO reconnaissance flights, never before have there been so many threats in our direction. Never before has there been so much tension in Russia’s modern history.
Others in Russia agree that NATO bases appear to have “bypassed” Russia.
“When Putin said that Russia was pressed or pressed against the wall and there was no way to back down, I don’t think it was a metaphor, but rather a real reflection of how the Russian leadership is feeling at the moment,” Suchkov said.
“Because if Ukraine is in NATO, then it is not only on the threshold of Russia, it is literally on the threshold.
A recent survey by the Levada Center, an independent Russian sociologist, found that 50 percent of Russians believe the United States and other NATO countries are responsible for the worsening situation in eastern Ukraine.
Sixteen percent believe Ukraine is to blame, while about 4 percent blame Russia.
“We see Ukraine being loaded with weapons on an incredible scale,” Popov said. “Ukraine, whether it wants to or not, is ready for a full-scale war.
“But in Russia, no one is talking about a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Our troops are on our territory. We are conducting exercises, but this is only in response to aggressive statements, threats of sanctions and threats of “crippling our economy”. [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken set it up. ”
For many in Russia and Ukraine, the latest frictions are just another chapter of a long saga.
According to the Levada Center, most Russians believe that the war between Russia and the West has existed for a long time: an invisible, cold, information war.
Some believe the United States and the West are deliberately trying to drag Russia into a deeper conflict.
At the same time, the prevailing view is that Russia will be forced to respond.
The Levada Center quoted a respondent as saying: “America and Britain are pressuring Ukraine to take aggressive action against Donbass, thus trying to force Russia to stand up for Russian citizens living there to justify further sanctions. ”
Popov describes the situation as “dangerous”.
“Obviously, if Ukraine launches an offensive against the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Russia will intervene. We have a duty to protect their lives and safety. ”
However, he reiterated that there were no plans to attack Ukraine: “We still consider Donbass to be Ukrainian territory.”
Suchkov also warned that an attack on Donbass could thwart any attempts at dialogue.
“The United States and NATO are supplying Ukraine with weapons and military simulators, and military executors are filling the country,” he said. “This could encourage the leadership in Kiev – or other participants in Ukraine who want to thwart these talks – to launch a military offensive against Donbass to provoke a response from Russia.
Therefore, this scenario is not completely ruled out.
“This can quickly escalate into a major conflict,” he said.