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Every era has a figure who strips away its pleasant illusions about where the world is headed. This is what makes Vladimir Putin the most important person of the still-young 21st century.

Over the past weeks — and over the past generation — Putin has done more than any other person to remind us that the world order we have taken for granted is remarkably fragile. In doing so, one hopes, he may have persuaded the chief beneficiaries of that order to get serious about saving it.

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