Its rather impressive how consistent the Russian leadership is – in whatever political form it assumes, Czarist, Communist, Putin era Oligarchism etc. They may not be entirely predictable – other than in Eastern Europe where they constantly return to the same tactics fielded post WWII – but in terms of covert action, they have always followed a higher risk path than that of the United States.
One example of their risk tolerance is their pattern of equipping their surrogates with more advanced weaponry. Putting tactical nuclear missile launchers into Cuba, along with extremely advanced air defense systems tends to get less attention than the IRBM’s shipped there during the Cuban missile crisis. However it was the advanced anti aircraft missiles shoot down of an American U-2 which came just short of triggering the American air strikes that could have kicked off a far larger combat. And the shoot down was actually offered by Soviet military officers in the field.
A few years later the Soviets were fully prepared to ship nuclear weapons to Egypt, which might well have resulted in the first actual nuclear exchange – between Egypt and Israel.
Never bashful to ship advanced weaponry, the Russians sent advanced missile artillery to Angola and its surrogates used it to smash the American sponsored forces there. The US had nothing comparable and held back from supplying equivalent weapons due to concerns of showing its hand in the conflict. That has never been a problem for the Russians. With all parties feigning neutrality in Laos, the Soviets shipped in tanks, heavy artillery and ran a large scale airlift operation. The United States responded with lesser weapons and more air strikes, by American pilots. Great efforts were made to capture Soviet and Chinese advisers…as well as North Vietnamese fighting in Laos. However when equipment or personnel was taken, the Soviets simply stonewalled – saying nothing.
The Soviet Union deployed all its weapons to Afghanistan, indeed there is good evidence that their combined field units took mobile atomic missile launchers along with them – which is their standard practice actually
Its the same thing we see today in the Ukraine, Putin has no qualms about sending in advanced weapons and barely disguised Russian military – but when caught red handed, he just shuts up. It really is impossible to embarrass the Russians into cooperation. They practice deniablity with no guilt whatsoever. Which is actually far less expensive and far more effective than the United States has done in the past, but a bit more like we are doing it in Yemen and elsewhere in current insurgency activities. Still, on the occasion when we get caught, we do tend to at least apologize – not something you are going to see from Putin unless he really breaks pattern.