Moscow's bluster timer went off again this weekend, and its top leaders clanked out, like those little men on a cuckoo clock, to once more promise their resurgence and threaten the rest of the world.
There was now-prime minister but soon-to-resume-being-president Vladimir Putin, invoking the hoary old threat of the intrusive West and warning "foreign partners" not to "impose anything from the outside" as next year's elections approach.
And there was now-president-but-soon-to-be-demoted Dimitri Medvedev, making veiled threats against NATO: If the alliance doesn't "respond" to Russia's never-ending "concerns" about the Euro-missile shield, Moscow could "review" its arrangements with the West, possibly including the one permitting logistics aircraft to transit its airspace on the way to Afghanistan. Medvedev also says that Russia could reposition weapons to counter the "threat" of the missile defense shield and it might even decide to withdraw from the New START treaty -- though U.S. critics would argue the agreement never really made Russia do much of anything to begin with.
If you have any spaces left on your Russia Bingo card, this should make everyone a winner: Putin also vowed that, in his second stint as president, he'll restore the Russian military to its former greatness: "In the next five to 10 years, we must take our armed forces to a qualitatively new level," he said. "Of course, this will require big spending .... but we must do this if we want to defend the dignity of our country."
Yes, it all sounds very familiar, but this time there's a twist: NATO already is dealing with an irate "partner" in Pakistan, which has cut off overland delivery of supplies to Afghanistan after its troops were killed by NATO aircraft in a cross-border incident. Depending on how long the border shutdown keeps up, pressure could continue to grow on the northern supply routes into Afghanistan, including the corridors used by aircraft through Russian airspace. If the Russians closed it down, things might get a little tense.
These pots are simmering but they don't seem on the verge of boiling over. According to Monday's reports, ISAF has a long-term stockpile that means it doesn't need the fuel and supplies in the idle trucks immediately. Still, the Russians can read headlines just like anyone else, and the closure of the Pakistan supply route into Afghanistan could afford rare leverage on one of their pet peeves. Putin, in election mode, may want to show that Russia can still tell the Americans where to get off.