Great powers seldom retreat forever. But, to the people who suffer their fall, the sense of diminishment is acute. For Russians, the end of the Soviet Union was not merely a new charter, a new flag, a new set of lyrics to an old anthem. There were plenty, in the cities, mainly, who rejoiced in the liberating sense of possibility—the open borders, the cultural ferment, the democratic potential—but for many millions of their compatriots, Putin among them, the collapse launched a decade of humiliation, marked by geopolitical, economic, and cultural disarray. In 1999, as Yeltsin handed the Presidency over to him, Putin said, “Russia is in the midst of one of the most difficult periods in its history. For the first time in the past two or three hundred years, it is facing a real threat of sliding into the second, and possibly even third, echelon of world states.” . . .