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The puffy face of the man on the screen was distorted by hatred: Eyes narrowed, thin lips pressed together and pushing out sharp words in angry bursts. At times, the right hand — with an expensive watch on the wrist, concealed by too-long shirt and jacket sleeves — slid under the desk, as if he were fumbling for a button to push. Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the nation.

This extraordinary rant Monday evening — an almost hourlong denunciation of Ukraine and all it stands for, peppered with the quaint tangents of an amateur historian and filled with rage at what he sees as broken promises and slights by the U.S. — left me with a sinking feeling. I’d been both hoping and predicting that Putin, after a few half-hearted attempts at diplomacy, would stop at recognizing the puppet “people’s republics” of eastern Ukraine — the LNR and the DNR — or, at most, incorporate them into Russia itself. The speech, however, sounded at times as though it was the nuclear button Putin was fingering under the desk.

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