1) Russian officers are drunk, slow, lazy thieves and are no match for any Western professionals. Their relative success is due purely to Georgian military incompetence, like the failure to block the roads and organize tank ambushes in the mountainous terrain perfectly suited for such operations. Even so, the Georgians managed to down several Russian aircraft and that should present a clear picture of the pathetic condition of the Russian air force.
2) The current Kremlin dwarfs (whichever one is really in charge) are no Hitlers or Stalins, but paper pushers who won the lottery and who, most likely, will not risk a real military confrontation with the West. They will however continue probing to sense weaknesses and to search for small victorious engagements to entertain the revenge hungry masses.
Addendum: Relatedly, you may have heard about wingnut efforts to turn this into another front on the war on terror. As often happens, Yglesias has the defninitive takedown:
In Iraq too, the Kremlin’s projection of power down through Georgia will soon be felt. Take another look at the map. If Russia is allowed to extend its reach southwards, as in Soviet times, down the Caucasus to Iran’s borders, Moscow can support Iran in any showdown with the West. Iran, thus emboldened, will likely attempt to reassert itself in Iraq, Syria and, via Hezbollah, in Lebanon.
This is crazy and paranoid, but also ignorant. The former Soviet Republics of Central Asia already have friendly relations with Moscow — Georgia, the Baltics, and the current regime in Ukraine are trying to get out of the Russian orbit, but the ’stans largely aren’t. But beyond the specific details it’s the constant paranoia and hysteria of the right-wing that really comes through here — the entire American position in the world turns out to hang on the narrow thread of Georgia exercising effective sovereignty over South Ossetia and/or Mikhail Saakashvili’s ability to hold onto power in Tblisis. Nevermind that before he took office, nobody thought him taking power was especially vital to American interests (as opposed to, perhaps, the citizens of Georgia’s interest in democratic elections) or that it’s not clear why the fact that Georgia touches Iran would magically alter the nature of the US-Iran-Russia relationships. |Yglesias|
As I indicated above, this all seems correct. The only thing that I would add is that it's important not to underestimate the strategic vision of the neocons. Consider what would happen if, once a fairly durable cease-fire had been established, the U.S. used this opportunity to negotiate a deal with Georgia to base American troops there. Like magic, Iran and Russia would find that their security concerns suddenly dovetail. Rising tensions would, naturally, be taken as evidence that the neocons were right all along.