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Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in St. Petersburg.

Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russian revenge vs. Ukrainian resolve

Vladimir Putin responded on Monday to Kyiv's (alleged) involvement in blowing up part of the only bridge connecting Crimea to Russia by unleashing fire and fury against Ukrainian cities.

Although some feared that attacking Crimea would push Putin to go nuclear, his retaliation was swift but conventional — and somewhat measured in terms of the actual damage done by an aggressor capable of wanton bloodshed. Also, Russia’s president blamed the blast on Ukrainian "terrorism," not the West, which means he doesn’t want to pick a direct fight with NATO.

How did we get here? Will it be a turning point in the war? And what might Putin do next?

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A view shows destroyed military vehicles on a street in the town of Bucha in the Kyiv region

REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko

What's the latest from Ukraine?

In the early hours of Friday morning, Russian troops seized control of Europe's largest nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine. After some raised the alarm of a potential "Chernobyl moment," international monitors said the initial blaze had been extinguished, and there was no indication that radiation had spilled.

Just a day after reportedly taking the southern city of Kherson, Russian forces on Thursday encircled the strategic Black Sea port of Mariupol in the southeast. Taking this city would not only diminish Ukraine’s access to international shipping lanes, but it would also nearly complete a “land bridge” extending from mainland Russia to the Crimean peninsula. Further west, the city of Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, readied itself for a Russian assault.

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, hosts a comedy show at a concert hall in Kiev, Ukraine February 22, 2019. Picture taken February 22, 2019.

REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

What We're Watching: Ukraine laughs it all off

Ukraine's comedian cabinet. As Russia threatens to invade, Ukraine's president is looking to defend his homeland... with a bit of humor. In recent months Volodymyr Zelenskiy — who was a famous comedian before he entered politics, and even played the role of president in a TV series before his 2019 election — has hired members of his old comedy troupe to occupy top positions in his government, including intelligence chief. Zelenskiy is known to crack jokes in moments of extreme tension, and last summer mocked Vladimir Putin for writing a long essay describing Russia and Ukraine as a fraternal single nation. While supporters say Ukraine's president wants his former buddies because they'll be loyal, critics argue that the bad optics of a government being run by comedians who may be out of their depth when faced with a master political strategist like Vladimir Putin. With 100,000 Russian troops at their border, the last thing the Ukrainians need is a bad joke, or even worse an amateur mistake that Putin can use to his advantage.

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