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At the Ukrainian border, Putin stands on the edge of a precipice

Putin, strangely, has abandoned the stealthy approach that worked for him in 2014. By massing nearly 100,000 troops on the border, he disdained the gray-zone tactics of hybrid war — the “green men” that swiftly seized key targets in Crimea. He can’t play this hybrid game now because U.S. intelligence has outed his secret plans for a full-scale war.

President Vladimir Putin’s career of pursuing revenge and redemption for Russia converges on this moment, as the United States presents him with a path off the ledge that he’s stepped onto along the border with Ukraine, writes David Ignatius of the Washington Post.

The dangerous standoff over Ukraine appears to continue after Tuesday’s virtual summit between Putin and President Biden. The initial White House readout was terse and opaque. The statement said Biden had expressed “deep concerns” about Russia’s actions, and warned that the United States and its allies “would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.”

Biden also “called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy.” U.S. officials have said that means a new attempt to implement the 2014 and 2015 Minsk protocols, signed after Russia seized Crimea and sponsored a proxy war in eastern Ukraine. This diplomacy will require “follow up” discussions, the White House said.

Will Putin take this path over the next few weeks and months? Or will he continue to threaten invasion if he doesn’t achieve his demand for a formal pledge that Ukraine will never join NATO — something Biden has ruled out? Putin’s wisest strategy would be to take a Minsk exit ramp and claim it as a victory. But stubborn, self-infatuated leaders sometimes do stupid things.

Let’s imagine that despite Tuesday’s phone diplomacy, Putin is reckless enough to press into Ukraine with the 175,000 troops U.S. intelligence says he is ready to bring into the battle. What would happen then?

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