A few weeks ago while most of the country was focused on parliamentary elections, one of Russia’s most influential daily newspapers, Kommersant, broke an altogether different news story.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the paper claimed, is planning a major overhaul of the country’s security services.

In essence the plan involves merging the foreign intelligence service or SVR - the equivalent of MI6 or the CIA - with the domestic Federal Security Service, or FSB - much the same as MI5 or the FBI - to create a new giant secret service.

Russia watchers point to the fact that this would, in effect, constitute the resurrection of the old Committee for State Security, or as it is better known the world over - the KGB.

If true, Putin’s latest harking back to the ‘good old days’ of Russian strength and superpower status will only add to the perception among many that the Kremlin is laying down yet another foundation for Russia’s new found assertive global role.

From its military engagement in the Syrian conflict, to alleged involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 - as well as trying to influence the US Presidential election through cyber attacks - Russia is rarely out of the news these days.

As the influential US political magazine CounterPunch recently pointed out, “aggressive,” “revanchist” and “swaggering” are just some of the adjectives that leading US and European political figures are routinely inserting before the words “Russia,” or “Vladimir Putin,” right now. Much of this is a vocabulary not seen or heard since the days of the Cold War. Given such bellicose rhetoric, are we indeed seeing an increasingly rogue and dangerous Kremlin - and if so how much of a threat does Russia pose to the West?

Three issues among many seem to be the most pressing. The first of these is Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict and in particular the bombing of cities like Aleppo. The second is that familiar old Cold War issue of nuclear weapons and the standoff with Nato. Finally, there is the much more contemporary but equally contentious issue of alleged cyber attacks and claims that the Kremlin is trying to influence the outcome of the forthcoming US presidential election.

By far it is the vexed issue of Syria where tensions are most visible right now. Almost exactly one year on from when Russia entered the war after a request from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow insists Islamic State (IS) fighters and other extremists are its targets but critics see Russia’s role differently.

Russian pilots are accused of targeting civilians and backing the Syrian regime suspected of using chemical weapons and barrel bombs on its own citizens. The recent bombing of a UN humanitarian convoy has only added to the criticism of Russia’s Syria campaign.

According to a new report by The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), the London based group that monitors the Syrian civil war, Russia's military has killed almost 10,000 people, including nearly 4,000 civilians, in Syria over the past year.

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was able to document the death of 9364 civilians and fighters from the rebel and Islamic Factions, Fath al-Sham Front (formerly the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front) and the ‘Islamic State’ in the past 12 months”, the group wrote on its website on Friday.

Russian airstrikes have killed more civilians (3,804) than members of IS (2,746) or members of rebel and other Islamic groups (2,814), according to SOHR. The civilian death count includes 906 children under the age of 18.

Russia’s increasing military action in Syria says the US, is forcing moderate elements within the Syrian opposition into the hands of extremists, with Washington threatening to end all cooperation with Russia if the bombing continues.

Boris Johnson the UK foreign secretary has said that Russia could be guilty of war crimes if it has been involved in the bombing of civilian targets in Syria.

US state department spokesman Mark Toner warned: “What has happened now, with the hitting of the humanitarian convoy and with the subsequent siege on Aleppo, you've got a scenario now, a dynamic where, as these moderate opposition forces are under increasing pressure from the regime, that they are driven into the arms of al-Nusra, and they have to fight side by side...It escalates, and makes more confusing, what is already a difficult situation,” Toner added.

Given the current level of tension between Washington and Moscow, some analysts believe that a military showdown over Syria is only a matter of time.

Almost every day the war of words becomes more shrill and belligerent. Last week it was US state department spokesman John Kirby’s turn when he made the observation that Moscow’s bombing runs on Syrian civilians could lead to terror attacks in Russia and Russian soldiers coming home in “body bags”.

Moscow’s response was swift and to the point, with Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for Russia’s Defence Ministry, insisting the comments were “the most frank confession by the US side so far that the whole ‘opposition’ ostensibly fighting a ‘civil war’ in Syria is a US-controlled terrorist international.”

Konashenkov’s use of the Soviet-era term was yet another indication of the prevailing political mindset at the Kremlin, analysts were quick to point out.

Lately there has been a renewed sense of urgency both in Washington and Europe over devising and implementing a strategy to confront Russian assertiveness not just on Syria but also on other volatile issues.

Many of the Cold War era’s hard-won lessons, particularly in the areas of nuclear stability and deterrence, are being relearned as the possibility of a new nuclear arms race percolates.

Alongside this the West is working hard to rebuild its bank of Russian linguists and regional experts even if Vladimir Putin appears to stymie them at every turn.

The biggest dangers, diplomatic analysts say lies in the current levels of mutual misunderstanding.

Just as Washington ignored years of Russian warnings to respect its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, Moscow continues to question the sincerity and validity of US arguments on human rights, as well as demands that Russia respect European countries’ borders.

According to Ian Kearns, director of the London-based European Leadership Network (ELN), both sides are guilty of dismissing the other’s actions as posturing or propaganda, a practice that could have significant unintended consequences.

“Until both sides accept that the narratives of the other should be taken seriously, red lines will continue to be missed, and possibly crossed,” Kearns said.

Kearns points to a prevailing sense of one-upmanship as highlighted in April when the US dispatched several F-22 Raptor fighters to Europe for exercises, while a Russian fighter buzzed a US destroyer in the Baltic Sea.

“This classic security dilemma can only worsen whilst both sides fail to exhibit empathy with the other,” Kearns warns.

And worsen it does in a climate where for the first time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, several nuclear-armed powers are on the edge of a military conflict with fewer safeguards than existed 50 years ago.

According to a report published by the ELN, since March of last year there have been over 60 incidents that had “the potential to trigger a major crisis between a nuclear armed state and a nuclear armed alliance.” The report went on to warn too that currently there is “no agreement between Nato and Russia on how to manage close military encounters.”

This, say military observers, is a troubling reminder that Russia’s aggression in the likes of Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria takes place under a nuclear shadow.

Then there is the question of whether Russia is reneging on arms control agreements, springing from the fact that Moscow has refused to consider cutting more of its nuclear weapons, is boycotting nuclear talks, deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles, and backing off a conventional weapons agreement.

When all this is viewed from Moscow of course there is a very different take, given that the US is continuing to spread its own network of anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, which the Russians see as a threat to their nuclear force. And as far as “reneging” goes, it was the US that dumped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, not Russia. The US too is also pouring billions of dollars into “modernising” its nuclear weapons.

While the nuclear threat remains an obvious cause for concern, another worrying element of Russia’s new strategic assertiveness is in the realm of what has been broadly termed "hybrid warfare".

This takes the shape of semi-clandestine operations, propaganda, information warfare and computer hacking.

This was evident in Russia’s seizure of Crimea with troops in unmarked uniforms, the so-called “little green men”.

“Moscow views world affairs as a system of special operations,” says analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, who helped establish the Kremlin’s information machine before 2008.

It has also very effectively deployed 'dezinformatsiya', or Russian disinformation, using both conventional media such as the Sputnik news agency and RT, a television outlet, as well as covert channels that are almost always untraceable.

As Neil MacFarquhar, a journalist with the New York Times who has written extensively on the subject, recently pointed out, all these outlets ‘depict the West as grim, divided, brutal, decadent, overrun with violent immigrants and unstable’.

MacFarquhar says that a prime Kremlin target is Europe, ‘where the rise of the populist right and declining support for the European Union helped create an ever more receptive audience for Russia’s conservative, nationalistic and authoritarian approach under Putin’.

Most recently of course the Kremlin’s clandestine methods have surfaced in the US where American officials have identified Russian intelligence as the likely source of leaked Democratic National Committee emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

As Moscow flexes its muscles militarily in places like Syria, and gears up its cyber domain and hacking activity in an effort to influence and shape global affairs, the question once again is how much should the West be worried about the cumulative impact?

Already the “Russia threat” is emerging as one of the principal foreign policy themes of the US presidential election. In Russia itself meanwhile a recent poll found that 72 percent of Russians consider the United States the country most hostile to Russia.

Much of the Kremlin’s current policy, of course, comes directly from Putin himself, whose own secret service background, some Russia watchers say, makes it natural for him to have a flexible attitude to the truth.

“You cannot hope to get into Mr Putin’s head and he is the sole decision-maker,” says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

“He is the guy who actually single-handedly maps Russia’s security policy, Russia’s foreign policy and Russia’s major diplomatic moves.”

In this regard many other analysts say that those itching for a showdown with Moscow like to portray him as the villain and grandmaster strategist, but this does not represent the true picture of Kremlin positioning.

They say that what Putin does in places like Syria and Ukraine is not borne out of strength, but out of desperation. They point to Russia’s economic problems and the need to be seen to be strong to keep citizens subdued politically on the home front.

There is no question that relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated to dangerous levels. It remains difficult to know whether the Kremlin’s often hysterical anti-Western campaigning and growing militarisation have developed unstoppable momentum.

The hope is that because of Russia’s economic constraints and absence of credible allies, Vladimir Putin and his government may still be open for the business of diplomacy.

If the recent Kommersant newspaper story is accurate and Putin is indeed in the throes of reincarnating the KGB that in itself might be a sign of how nervous he has become about his own and Russia’s political future.