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View From Russia On The U.S. Expulsion Of Russian Diplomats

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are waiting to see how Russia is going to respond after the United States and its Western allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and intelligence officers. This purge was in reaction to Russia's alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. So how does all of this look from inside Russia? Well, let's bring in someone who is frequently on our program. It's longtime Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner, who's on the line from Moscow.

Mr. Pozner, good morning.

VLADIMIR POZNER: Good morning, sir.

GREENE: So I remember one time when President Obama expelled a bunch of Russian diplomats. Everyone was waiting to see if Vladimir Putin would respond in kind. And instead, he invited a lot of families of U.S. diplomats over to the Kremlin, so he can be unpredictable. What's he going to do this time?

POZNER: Well, it's hard to say, but he did - it was a kind of tit for tat with Great Britain. They expelled 23 Russian diplomats, and the Russians expelled 23 British diplomats. And I think it's probably going to be more something like that.

GREENE: Well, are actions like this by the United States and the West making Russia feel isolated? I mean, if we have sanctions and now this wave of expulsions, is it putting the pressure, is it tightening the screws on Russia?

POZNER: Well, let me put it this way. I can't give you a scientific answer - right? - but my feeling is that if you were to poll the Russian population today and ask them how they feel about what's going on, the response would be indignation and anger and saying it's simply not fair. What's happening is it is an illustration of the West trying to hurt Russia, and we're going to stand up to that, and we'll fight as long as we possibly can. And it's increasing support for Mr. Putin, if anything, precisely because most Russians see this as being completely unfair, a kind of a plot really. So do the sanctions hurt? Absolutely. Economically, they do. Expelling diplomats - well, that's not going to affect the lives of anybody really except those diplomats. Otherwise, it's more like a slap in the face.

GREENE: So do the Russian people - you say that they see the expulsions, the sanctions, as kind of the West bullying Russia. Do they, though, believe the argument from the United States from Britain that the Russian government was responsible for this poisoning?

POZNER: Well, let's begin with the fact that even Britain says highly possible but they don't say, you know, it actually is. We think, we believe, we have reason to believe, but nobody's yet come up with a absolutely firm call on this. And that's No. 1. No. 2 is most Russians say there's no way that Russia did this because it simply would be stupid. Doing this after President Putin's address to the nation, just before the presidential elections in Russia and with the World Cup coming up - to do this is simply stupid. Now, you can say a lot of things about Putin, but the one thing you can't say, that he's stupid. And it just makes no sense. There's no logic to it whatsoever.

GREENE: Although I guess we should say that the British government says they have, you know, intelligence that at least very strongly suggests that the Russian government was somehow involved.

POZNER: Well, I wish, and everyone wishes, they'd make it public. Show the proof. It's always better to do that than to say we have it, but we can't show it because it's whatever it is. I mean, that really doesn't work.

GREENE: Speaking to Vladimir Pozner, a veteran Russian journalist, giving us the view from Moscow this morning. Thanks as always. We appreciate it.

POZNER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.