A chilling analysis of what is going on in Russia and Georgia here.
Russia's actions seem very risky. For example, if it is true that Poland's new missile defense is aimed at rogue states like Iran, and cannot really be used to stop Russian missiles, as really does seem to be the case, why is Russia issuing bellicose threats? And why have they revived bomber sorties over the Alaskan coast? Wouldn't it be wiser for them to quietly take their “winnings” in Georgia; and let the US and NATO blow off a little steam and save some face?
Instead, it seems as though Russia is deliberately increasing tensions, deliberately trying to upset the West.
Why is Russia prepared to take such a risk? And why this sudden move to a confrontational style?
It could be that it is not really Russia's interests that matter here, but Vladimir Putin's.
That's what has changed recently, after all: Putin's internal status. He is no longer president. And, although he chose his own successor, that does not mean he is content playing second fiddle, as prime minister. What if Medvedev turns out to be his own man?
He was forced to step down by constitutional term limits. Perhaps Putin calculates that, by shaking things up and creating international tensions, he will improve his position. The apparatus and the public may be more open, in an emergency atmosphere, to de facto or even constitutional changes in the name of strong leadership.
From his personal point of view, then, these risks might be worth taking.
He does seem to be deliberately identifying himself personally with the action in Georgia. He seems to be positioning himself as the bad cop to Medvedev's good cop in international negotiations—if it is not, indeed, a case of two leaders pursuing independent foreign policies.
At best, if the bluff and bluster goes well, he will take the credit for the increase in Russian power and prestige. At worst, he still gains power, even if at Russia's expense.
He is, though, taking a big risk with Russia's and the world's future. I think a lot of people are sleepwalking or whistling “Volga Boatman” over the last few days, not realizing how significant this is: a unilateral invasion of a neighbouring sovereign state. It could lead to general war, and a war between states stacked high with nuclear weapons.
Can states blunder into devastating wars so blindly, because of political calculations back home?
Yes they can. It happened to Japan in World War II. Rival factions kept upping the ante for political reasons, presenting rival governments with faits accompli. Had anyone thought first of what was good for Japan, they would never have attacked China, much less the USA.