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When Vladimir Putin declared Sunday that he was putting his nuclear forces into “special combat readiness” — a heightened alert status reminiscent of some of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War — President Joe Biden and his aides had a choice.

They could match the move and put American forces on DEFCON 3 — known to moviegoers as that moment when the Air Force rolls out bombers, and nuclear silos and submarines are put on high alert. Or the president could largely ignore it, sending out aides to portray Putin as once again manufacturing a menace, threatening Armageddon for a war he started without provocation.

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