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Putin Pushes Confrontation With NATO as Hardliners Prevail

Hemmed in and fuming, the Kremlin leader is using a troop buildup near Ukraine to get the U.S. to pay attention.

Vladimir Putin watches a military exercise in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Russia, in September.

Vladimir Putin watches a military exercise in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Russia, in September.

Photographer: Sergei Savostyanov/Pool Sputnik Kremlin/AP Photo

Vladimir Putin is an expert at bluffing and keeping the West on its toes, pushing relations to the edge before pivoting without warning. But, hemmed in and fuming, he is deadly serious about being heard on Ukraine.

Those close to the Kremlin say the Russian president doesn’t want to start another war in Ukraine. Still, he must show he’s ready to fight if necessary in order to stop what he sees as an existential security threat: the creeping expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in a country that for centuries had been part of Russia.