''If I may be frank, we were absolutely right to shoot down the Korean plane, '' said the stocky, middle-aged man near Moscow's central farm market. And what of the 269 passengers aboard?
''Look. Tell your readers that they should be absolutely clear on one thing. On issues like this we are very tough. You enter our airspace like this, and you get shot down.
''And that's the way things should be. . . . And if you want to test us, test us, and you will surely not be the winner.''
Most Muscovites strolling under an Indian summer sun Wednesday seemed generally to agree. And where days earlier pedestrians were loath to discuss the air disaster, a crescendo of (anti-American) accounts in the Soviet news media seems to have loosened unofficial tongues as well.
One woman was interrupted while reading Pravda at one of the special streetside boards where the paper is posted each morning. On the front page, a long ''government statement'' included the Soviets' first acknowledgment their fighter planes had ''stopped the flight'' of the Korean Boeing. The blame, however, remained ''wholly and fully'' on the United States, said to have been cynically using the civilian aircraft for a spy mission.
''You Americans have violated our air space before,'' the woman fairly spat when asked to comment.
''How low will Reagan sink? Doesn't he have children or grandchildren? . . . What an odious act!''
A group of schoolbound teen-agers explained that the whole affair was really quite simple. One boy, munching between words on a hot, soggy doughnut, put it this way: ''The plane violated our air space. That is the issue. So we reacted. Those are the rules.''
Few voices differed. A tall, young man simply added nuance: ''There are two sides to the question. On the one hand, it obviously isn't a very humane thing to do, shooting down the plane like this. . . . But you've read what we have said: The plane violated our air space. It didn't reply to our signals. That is the reason it was shot down.''
For most people, Wednesday's Pravda - in effect contradicting earlier Soviet suggestions the Boeing had merely been ''warned'' off with tracer shells - served mainly to confirm the obvious.
''From the very first reports here, when it was clear the plane was missing, one could easily deduce it was shot down,'' said the woman in front of the Pravda billboard.
A young man nearby said much the same thing: ''From the references to victims and condolences, it was obvious the plane was shot down.''
Yet perhaps most interesting were the separate remarks of several other passersby - all women, as it happens - who had clearly neither read the morning paper nor finally decided the plane was downed.
''Of course, we didn't shoot it down,'' said a chunkily built woman in a white apron who was chatting outside a downtown bread shop.
Told of Pravda's front page, she fell silent. A similarly dressed friend broke in: ''Well, the air defenses were simply doing their duty.''
Another woman nearby at first seemed reluctant to talk, explaining with an apologetic smile: ''I'm in a bit of a rush. I'm on the way to the banya,'' the public baths.
Yet, reconsidering, she remarked: ''We couldn't have shot it down. We may have forced it to land. But shooting it down? No.''
Told of Pravda's suggestion the plane was indeed attacked, she seemed distraught, then said quietly: ''I, personally, still can't believe that we would do this. That is my personal feeling.''
Extending a hand, palm downward, as if to pat an imaginary child, she added: ''I've been a party member since I was a Young Pioneer. I don't think we would do this.''