Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia, eclipsing the authority of President Dmitri Medvedev, left the Olympics in China and arrived Saturday evening in Vladikavkaz, a city in southern Russia just over the border that is a military staging area. State-controlled news broadcasts showed Putin meeting generals, suggesting that he was in charge of the operations on Georgian soil.
Putin made clear that Russia now viewed Georgian claims over the breakaway regions within its borders to be invalid, and that Russia had no intention of withdrawing. "There is almost no way we can imagine a return to the status quo," he said, according to Interfax.
This passage tells us something.
While Putin held the official title of President, no real challenge of this magnitude presented itself in a manner where he could lead a major military operation. In my view, this is what he has wanted. Since it didn't happen when he held the title, he now has the opportunity to show who still holds the real power in Russia, as Prime Minister. This clearly shows that the current President is nothing more than a figurehead to appease constitutionalists.
This also says something else.
By now, it's perfectly clear to me that they not only want to extract Georgia's forces from South Ossetia, they want to punish Georgia to make them an example for the world to see, while showing off their military capabilities. The operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have given the U.S., their chance. Now it's their turn. And if we scratched a little deeper, it could mean that Putin and his government have some hidden jealousies towards the known abilities of the U.S., and their success at turning around a failing operation in Iraq.
By and large, Russia wants to flex their muscles and make statement of power in order to feel relevant again. It looks like they have figured the world will be consumed by the Olympics, so now is as good of a chance as any. With attention in Beijing, they give every appearance of having felt more emboldened to carry out this task, which is nothing less than a return to the days of Russian domination in the region.
Deep down, Putin has longed for a return of Russia to the power-broker that was once realized as the leader of the Soviet Union. Deep down, he once again longs for this prominent role on the world stage and greatly resents the break-up of the former USSR, making the U.S. the only sole super-power left in the world for that time.
But his envy of the U.S. is not the only component driving his desire for a widened conflict. He now realizes that China may be looming on the horizon as a potential challenge and (in some ways) threat to the "great bear".
Sure, both of them are co-existing fairly well right now and have even conducted joint military exercises together at one point. But let us make no mistake here, Putin also knows history. He knows that the USSR and China were very close until the Sino-Soviet, which began after Stalin's death. He knows that can happen again as China becomes more powerful through a better business ethic and the funneling of revenues into high tech weaponry, which they have yet to show off.
What this means is, the U.S. and the E.U. will need to work together for a common goal, once again. If they don;t set aside their petty differences, we may see some things that will once again threaten western civilization, only far worse than any "cold war" could.