Russian President Vladimir Putin reacts after a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall to mark the Defenders of the Fatherland Day in Moscow, February 23, 2015. AFP/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV
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In Russia, Vladimir Putin likes to portray himself as the savior of the nation.What the Russian president does next in Ukraine is key to the country's future, as well as that of Europe and his own.Putin looks to have the upper hand at this stage despite Western economic sanctions that are hurting Russia's economy, as Ukraine is rapidly becoming all but ungovernable for its pro-Western leaders, undermining its drive to join mainstream Europe.With Crimea in Russian hands for almost a year and eastern Ukraine controlled by separatists loyal to him, Putin could allow the rebels to try to seize more territory with what the West says is Russian military support.For Putin, who denies sending troops and weapons to east Ukraine, the map of Russia and its "near abroad" is more comforting than a year ago.Russian-speaking east Ukraine has not become part of Russia, but is now more in Moscow's sphere of influence than Kiev's.More is at stake for Putin and Russia in Ukraine than in any other former Soviet republic: He says he sees it as one nation with Russia and the cradle of Russian civilization.
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