Putin is at his most vulnerable. Huge antiwar protests are breaking out domestically, hundreds of thousands Russians are fleeing to avoid the draft, the dictator's hardliners are angry for his having been too soft on Ukraine, his top military advisers have come around to comprehending that he's a strategic buffoon, sanctions are strangling his once-technologically burgeoning economy and defense establishments, allies such as China are subtly backing away from their support — in short, he and his "empire" are weak, besieged, international and even national outcasts.

And yet the U.S. and NATO fear both him and his preparations for a long-running conflict. Historians of war and geopolitics will study this East-West dogpile and consign themselves to everlasting consternation.