Vladimir Putin is deliberately escalating tensions with the West by sending bombers not only to European borders, but to the western hemisphere where they are traveling from the Arctic to the Caribbean. While much of this is saber rattling, it is a dangerous game that could end in catastrophe. There have already been near misses with commercial aircraft, and this aggressive posturing heightens the risk of mistakes. The Chinese appear to be on board with this and both Russia and China perceive the US to be weak and the Europeans even weaker. China is in a dispute with Japan over some islands that are basically rocks in the ocean, and her again a wrong move could lead to war. In the absence of resolve and firm resistance, if they calculate they can get away with something they will.
All of this indicates the extent to which we are dependent upon the sanity and judgement of political leaders for our own survival. International cooperation is dependent on good behavior on their part. The more tensions escalate the more we are exposed. A cascading series of mistakes led to the carnage of World War I, and the unexpected is always present. There is no reason why the US and Russia should be in conflict, but Putin is pushing the envelope in an attempt to regain territory once held by the Soviet Union, and his recklessness is a cause for concern. He presides over a country that is losing population and is dependent on natural resources, especially oil and gas, for revenue. Falling oil prices are bad news for his government as well as various scoundrels around the world. But this weakness also causes him to lash out with what assets he has, namely a large military. The problem is that this ups the odds for mistakes happening, or miscalculation in terms of response.
He has also whipped up a virulent nationalism and has widespread support for his aggressive actions. But he is not going anywhere any time soon given his grip on power, meaning that the West will have to deal with him for the foreseeable future. There was some degree of legitimacy in his claim for Crimea, which was always Russian until 1954. Russians and Ukrainians have common origins, but that does not translate into a choice for political authority. The European Union, with no appetite or capability for military action stirred the pot by attempting to extend itself to Ukraine, thereby provoking the Russians, who also blame the US despite the lack of any evidence indicating our involvement. But while gratifying in the short term, these actions are not in the long-term interests of Russia, which can only have a future as part of the European world.
Given the precarious nature of wide-ranging force deployments there is increased likelihood that powers are going to bump into each other whether intended or not. Furthermore the US has a network of alliances and obligations that could force us into war unless adversaries know for certain that we will go to war. Things are most dangerous when there is uncertainty, vacillation, and when weakness is perceived. At the very least there has to be a concerted effort to reduce flashpoints before they erupt and drag us all to somewhere we don’t want to be.