Fishing on a marbled expanse of frozen river, dressed head to toe in camouflage, Viktor Berkut looked very much the Soviet-born Everyman and has the biography to match. He joined the Red Army in 1970 and spent three decades building air defense and rocket systems directed against Moscow’s ideological enemies in the West.

But the enemy has changed, and for that Berkut blames President Vladimir Putin of Russia. With roughly 130,000 Russian troops now threatening his native Ukraine, the 71-year-old pensioner now says any connection he once felt to Russia is gone: Ukraine should join NATO, he said, and put up bloody resistance should Putin order an attack.

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