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Russia Denies It's Directly Aiding Pro-Russian Separatists


Now elsewhere in the program this morning, NATO's deputy secretary general told us that Russia has moved troops and tanks into eastern Ukraine. The Russian government furiously denies that it is directly aiding pro-Russian separatists and that any Russians who may be in Ukraine are volunteers. For a Russian perspective on all of this, we have on the line Fyodor Lukyanov. He's editor-in-chief of the journal Russia In Global Affairs and a predominant foreign affairs analyst in Moscow. Mr. Lukyanov, good morning.

FYODOR LUKYANOV: Good morning.

GREENE: So President Vladimir Putin says the Russian military is not in Ukraine. Who is telling the truth here?

LUKYANOV: I don't know because unfortunately the (unintelligible) situation looks like a real information war. And we hear a lot of statements from all sides, the Russian, Ukrainian, Western European, American, which are not fully confirmed or not profoundly grounded. I think we can judge based on situation on the ground. And on the ground, that's quite obvious that the dynamics of armed conflict has changed profoundly since several days. And the rebels, the pro-Russian forces, are gaining new territories while Ukrainian Army is retreating. And they have to defend cities which they recaptured recently or even a while ago.

GREENE: All of which suggests that there is some kind of Russian support coming in, perhaps it's volunteers that the Russian government said are actual forces. But, you know, Russia's playing a role here - why? What is President Putin after in eastern Ukraine?

LUKYANOV: If we look at the short-term goal, I think it's quite obvious. The continuation of the very slow peace process which started recently - and in conflicts like this armed actions and war is unfortunately part of political discussion.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you this; presumably Vladimir Putin feels like he didn't get exactly what he wanted, and so he is continuing to use force on the ground in some way to try and negotiate as you say. What exactly does he want out of some sort of compromise?

LUKYANOV: You know, Russian goal was not set from the beginning and certainly very, very much moving, it's liquid. All actions taken in Ukrainian conflict since the beginning, since February, seem to be rather spontaneous. So just now I think the goal of rebels and Russia supporting them is to clearly demonstrate for Mr. Poroshenko...

GREENE: Who is the Ukrainian President.

LUKYANOV: ...This war is unwinnable for you. If you believe that you can prevail militarily, forget about it. And that will continue as long as Poroshenko or Ukrainian fighters (unintelligible) reject to discuss serious political concessions.

GREENE: And political concessions would be what? What sort of political concession does Russia want or need out of all this?

LUKYANOV: At least until recently, I think the goal was to force Ukrainian leadership to accept leadership of rebel movement as part of negotiations.

GREENE: And finally, politically is it really important for Vladimir Putin to come out of this in some way that he can call it a victory?

LUKYANOV: Oh, yeah, absolutely. This is seen by population as a crucial, crucial process. This is widespread belief in Moscow that in case of the defeat of pro-Russian forces, if Russia will allow them to be defeated by Ukraine, then Crimean issue will be put on the agenda pretty soon by Ukraine. Ukraine might try to recapture that by force. In terms of political posturing, Putin is extremely popular because of his policy (unintelligible) the Ukraine. We see that the approval rating is almost 90 percent. To lose, to be defeated on Ukrainian soil, would mean serious trouble for him, how to present it to Russian public because Russian public is really enthusiastic about what is happening.

GREENE: Mr. Lukyanov, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

LUKYANOV: Thank you.

GREENE: Fyodor Lukyanov is the editor-in-chief of Russia In Global Affairs, and he spoke to us from Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.