It was a brief but bloody conflict that lasted little more than a week.

Eight years have now passed since the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

At its height I remember accompanying other journalists into the disputed town of Gori. Known as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, the town had then become one of the key flashpoints between Russian and Georgian troops.

On Gori’s outskirts Russian soldiers, until then recently deployed in Chechnya, had set up checkpoints, their decrepit, ageing tanks and personnel carriers clearly having seen better days.

The soldiers, too, were less than impressive. Most seemed unkempt, their uniforms a hybrid mix of styles more in keeping with an irregular militia than a conventional modern army.

But it was the Russian soldiers behaviour I recall most of all. Many appeared ill disciplined and some were clearly drunk, including one senior general who, despite reeking of booze and slurring his speech, insisted on giving an impromptu press conference to assembled international correspondents.

Overall, the impression was of an antiquated army, whose vehicles, weapons and appearance had changed little since my first encounter with Red Army conscripts in Afghanistan 25 years earlier.

Today of course the Russian Army is an altogether different force.

Since those days of the nearly botched operation against Georgia in 2008 its growth and modernisation has been impressive.

So impressive says one man, that the West and its military alliance Nato will almost certainly find themselves in all out conflict with Russia in the near future.

British General, Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Nato, has stirred up controversy with his assertion that the West would be at war with Russia by this time next year.

In most quarters Shirreff’s claims were understandably dismissed as alarmist hyperbole, warmongering or little more than a chance to promote his recently published book entitled ‘2017: The War with Russia’.

Shirreff’s tome outlines a fictitious scenario albeit one based on his wealth of experience before he stepped down from his Nato and military position in 2014.

In the book he argues that Russia’s annexation of the Crimea inevitably sets the stage for wider conflict. Moscow he says, in order to escape “perceived” encirclement by Nato, will seize territory in eastern Ukraine, open up a land corridor to the Crimea and invade the Baltic states. His scenario even names Latvia as the first of the Baltic countries to be invaded and Shirreff goes as far as to pencil in the approximate date of May 2017.

Should Moscow decide to invade the Baltic States, all three of which are Nato members, then the West would be compelled to respond under what is known as the “collective defence clause” which states that “an attack against one ally is considered attack against all allies.”

Shirreff believes that in order to stave off a Nato response Russia could threaten a nuclear attack, escalating the situation dramatically.

“Be under no illusion whatsoever, Russian use of nuclear weapons is hardwired into Moscow’s military strategy,” he writes.

Shirreff is not one for mincing his words. This after all is the same man who said the SNP and Greens are "living in a fool's paradise" by opposing the renewal of Trident. A man who is of the view that David Cameron’s Tory Britain is “now little different from any other semi-pacifist European social democracy, more interested in protecting welfare and benefits than maintaining adequate defences.”

But behind all of Shirreff’s war talk and insistence on a Britain that shows “stubborn resolve,” what actually is the true nature of the stand-off between Russia and the West?

Are we as Shirreff contends, in a time when the risk of all out conflict is at its greatest since the Cold War, and how in fact do both sides shape up militarily and politically?

To answer these points it’s important to return again to that time shortly after the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. For it was following that conflict that then Russian Minister of Defence, Anatoly Serdyukov, launched an ambitious programme to reform and improve the Russian military.

That plan today remains the same. In effect to spend some 20 trillion rubles on weapons systems between 2011 and 2020, with the intent of fully updating 70 percent of Russia’s armed forces by the end of this decade.

According to Michael Kofman a Russia analyst with the US based CNA corporation, which researches defence, and security issues, Moscow has made rapid progress since the days of the Georgia campaign.

"If you were to have told them back then, that in 2016 they would deploy to Syria, much further away, with a much more modernised air force, and they would conduct an air campaign for months ... and they would be using drones and satellite imagery ... it would sound like science fiction," insists Kofman.

Russia’s move to upgrade its military is of course inextricably connected to President Vladimir Putin’s desire to see his country once again behave like a superpower.

In flexing its military and political muscle in places like the Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria, Moscow has of course sent relations with Washington and Western Europe into deep freeze. Some analysts point now to what would a few years back have been unthinkable: the advent of Cold War Two.

Not everyone is so convinced of this though, even if on the surface some similarities exist. Yes, Russian planes are intercepted over the UK or buzz US ships in the Baltic. American armoured brigades meanwhile deploy in Europe, and Nato has military drills near the Russian border, but is this so much of an escalation that it warrants being called another Cold War?

On many levels the current situation misses several key elements that helped fuel the real Cold War.

First, current Western-Russian competition does not possess the same ideological component that existed at that time. Gone is the clash of ideologies between capitalism and Soviet communism. Today’s Russia instead possesses its own version of capitalism, albeit one skewed by corruption and oligarchic control of key assets.

Missing too from the mix, with the obvious exception of Syria, are the global ‘frontline state’ stand-offs between the two power blocs that existed in places like Angola, Nicaragua and Vietnam during the height of the Cold War.

As Josh Cohen a former USAID project officer who was involved in managing economic reform projects in the former Soviet Union also points out, both the economic and military backdrops are very different today.

“Currently, the $18 trillion American economy is approximately ten times the size of Russia’s and the difference in power between the Soviet military and today’s Russian military is dramatic,” says Cohen.

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies could bring together 173 divisions in Europe to fight Nato forces. The Soviets too possessed three times the number of tanks, anti-tank weapons and artillery pieces. To support these ground forces, the Soviets could also bring more than 7,200 combat aircraft to bear against barely 3,000 for Nato.

“A Nato-Russia comparison today tells a very different story,” Cohen explains in a recent analysis for the global news agency Reuters.

“With a 2015 military budget of $600 billion, Washington spends approximately ten times the amount on defence as does Moscow, and while Russian combat forces are modernising, American military technology largely outclasses the Kremlin’s.”

This may well be the case, but it remains hard to ignore the dramatic changes within the Russian military.

Intelligence analysts point to increased mobility as the most significant factor in Russia's military reformation, along with better, less administratively hobbled command and control.

That ability to move its forces quickly gives Russia a political leverage that President Putin has put to effective use and shown he is willing to continue using.

It was noticeable for example that in one of his first public comments after the Kremlin announced it was bringing its forces home from Syria, Putin made sure the international community was left in no doubt about Russia’s ability to return to Syria at the drop of a hat.

"If necessary, literally within a few hours, Russia can build up its contingent in the region to a size proportionate to the situation developing there and use the entire arsenal of capabilities at our disposal," Putin said to those assembled at a military awards ceremony, knowing full well the world too was watching and listening.

It’s worth remembering that the Russian leader also continues to put great store by his nation’s nuclear weapons capability.

Only recently a Russian “news” outlet ran a piece on the country’s latest Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) under development, known as RS-28. This, the channel explained no doubt for Washington’s benefit, was a weapon capable of “destroying an area the size of Texas”.

Much larger than anything in the American arsenal, much of the RS-28’s 10 tons will be in the form of nuclear weapons. It will be capable too of sending these warheads to the United States over the South Pole, avoiding any US missile defences.

This of course is a significant factor itself given Moscow’s continued snarling over the deployment of new US missile defences.

In the last few weeks alone tensions between Russia and the West rose still further when Nato declared that a missile defence battery of American SM-3 interceptors, designed to shoot down incoming missiles, was activated at Deveselu military base in Romania. A similar facility is due to become operational in Poland in 2018.

Such moves are symptomatic of a more aggressive stance towards Russia that has become part of Nato daily military planning.

Britain, as Nato’s’s largest military power in Europe, is of course intimately involved in these machinations, despite the ‘shirking’ role General Shirreff insists has become the UK’s default position. Moscow of course has a very different take.

"From the Russian point of view, they see themselves as being surrounded by potentially hostile adversaries and so they see a lot of their modernisation as being defensive in nature,” says Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at the Strategic Studies division of CNA and a leading expert on Russia's military. “The focus now is to build up their capabilities so it's not just Georgia that has to take them seriously, but Nato and China as well."

On this level at least General Shirreff is not wrong when he says the risk of Western-Russian tensions spiralling into an outright military clash is a real one.

But as other less belligerent analysts are right to point out, all the more reason then why in order to prevent this the West and Moscow must establish specific 'Cold War style' protocols for the military interaction of each side’s forces.

This was done in Syria where both Russia and the US worked together to reduce the risk of accidental clashes that could lead to the kind of spiralling confrontation General Shirreff outlines in his book.

Far better then that both sides establish the “rules of the game” so to speak, rather than their respective warplanes playing irresponsible games of aerial chicken in the Baltic and Black Seas, that could lead to catastrophe.

The West too must seek out opportunities for closer cooperation with Russia. Keeping up the momentum on preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism for example or stabilising Afghanistan and sharing intelligence on Islamist inspired terrorism are all areas where interests overlap.

Closer to home, perhaps instead of General Shirreff’s sort of sabre rattling, there should instead be greater emphasis on giving the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) better resources to analyse Moscow.

This is something that has been woefully neglected in recent years, and the detrimental results of this dearth in crucial intelligence has been there for all to see. Above all the thing needed most of course, is for calm heads to prevail.