Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 2022
Anton Vaganov / Reuters

On February 24, as he launched the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the specter of nuclear war. He warned that any outside interference would lead to consequences “never seen in history,” a clear reference to the use of atomic weapons. The prospect of an outright nuclear war with Russia may indeed have convinced NATO member states that their direct involvement in the conflict was too dangerous to countenance. But the war did not follow Putin’s script. Russia’s surprising early struggles on the battlefield, along with Ukraine’s dogged resistance, persuaded many NATO members to send military

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