Russian troops mass on Ukraine's border. West worries this isn't like the last time. | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

Russian troops mass on Ukraine's border. West worries this isn't like the last time.

It is by now a familiar pattern: Russian troops mass near the Ukrainian border, triggering ratcheting rhetoric and jitters across Europe and the United States that war might be imminent, before a flurry of diplomacy calms nerves.

Officials and experts say that this time is different — and there are several clues giving them genuine concern that the current gambit by Russian President Vladimir Putin might be for real, and the start of a conflict that could drag in Europe and even the U.S. itself.

Putin has deployed more than 90,000 troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine, matching the force that he sent and withdrew in the spring. But whereas those troops maneuvered in open daylight, now they have mostly been far less showy, moving under the cover of darkness.

And Moscow's rhetoric has noticeably hardened in recent months, saying it will not accept what it sees as a deepening of ties between Ukraine and the West.

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