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How Zelenskyy's trip to Washington is being seen in Russia

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For more on Russia's reaction, I'm joined by Sergey Radchenko. He is the Wilson E. Schmidt distinguished professor of Russian history at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Good morning.

SERGEY RADCHENKO: Morning to you.

FADEL: So how is Zelenskyy's trip to Washington being seen in Russia?

RADCHENKO: Well, the Russian reaction has been very mute so far - muted reaction. We haven't seen anything on the Russian news, for example, that would show Zelenskyy in Congress, you know, speaking to the American people. The spokesman for the president, Dmitry Peskov, has commented to the effect that, well, this trip has not contributed to peace in Ukraine, which is an odd thing to say for a country that is actually invading a neighboring state.

FADEL: Right. They've also mentioned a proxy war, that this is just the U.S. waging a proxy war on Russia. Is that a widely held view?

RADCHENKO: Well, this is the propaganda line that the Kremlin has been selling to the Russian public, and unfortunately, that is very popular with the Russian public. You could say that the majority of Russian people, although they're weary of the conflict, they still see this as an existential struggle between Russia and the West in which Ukraine is being played for a pawn. So, you know, the line the Kremlin is selling is, well, you know, Washington wants to fight this until the last Ukrainian. Why won't they start, you know, talking peace with us? But, you know - and this is something that the Russian public, I think, are buying, by and large.

FADEL: The war is now nearly 10 months old. Russia's Vladimir Putin seemed to expect rapid, dramatic victories. That's not what is happening. How is the Kremlin portraying these losses to the Russian public?

RADCHENKO: Well, obviously, they wanted to capture Ukraine within a few days. It did not happen. But then, you know, Putin has decided to double down. And in recent weeks and months, he declared mobilization. And he is trying to intensify the war effort. He's still doing it carefully. So the mobilization that was declared was called partial so as to avoid a large discontent on the part of the Russian public. But it's sort of like boiling a frog slowly. You know, it's bit by bit. The Russian government is selling this to the Russian people, saying, well, we are in this existential struggle. You have no other choice but to support the government on this because if Ukraine and the West have their way, then Russia will simply disappear.

FADEL: Is it working? I mean, you mentioned some of the discontent when that military draft was first announced. Is there still an anti-war movement?

RADCHENKO: I'm afraid it's very limited. Obviously, there are people in Russia who are against the war, you know, many intellectuals. Many have fled Russia as well, you know, many professionals there. You know, hundreds of thousands of people ran away from Russia. But I think, by and large, the population is docile. The population has bought into that rhetoric being sold by the government that this is a war that Russia needs to fight for its very survival.

FADEL: So at this point, are there any signals from the Kremlin that Putin, that Russia might be willing to engage in any kind of peace negotiations?

RADCHENKO: I don't see any signals at this point. It seems that Putin is determined to continue this war. He has just ordered an increase in the Russian military. It seems that he has suffered some defeats in recent weeks, obviously, but he's doubled down. And he's - as far as we can see, he's determined to continue this war.

FADEL: Sergey Radchenko at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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