Russian President: Vladimir Putin.
As 100,000 Russian troops, combat-ready and ready to go, are camped on Ukraine's border, the West is divided. The US is still smarting over its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, Germany under Olaf Sholtz, its new Chancellor is untested as a world leader, Macron faces an upcoming general election in France, while COVID runs rampant across the so-called 'Free World'.
Russia, the US, and NATO are to meet to discuss terms over the flashpoint. However, Ukraine itself and others question the seriousness of the Russians in wanting to deescalate the situation. Russia may be setting up the talks to fail, as an excuse to launch military action against Ukraine. Russia has demanded impossible demands of NATO and the US, that it cannot possibly or realistically live up to. So, if Russia does take military action, it will say its action is justified as the West has not listened to Russia. Also, if Russia is setting up upcoming talks with NATO and the US to fail, Russia would justify any military action by saying the West was one-sided in its talks with Russia and not interested, in Russia's point of view. Going back, as discussed in the first paragraph, with Russia's enemies divided, that might be Russia's excuse to attack Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin, at 69 knows his time on earth is running out and maybe his political time too. Putin knows with a divided West or failing talks with the West, (whether Russia wants them to fail or not), could be the best time for Russia to launch an attack on Ukraine.
There are parallels between Saddam in 1990 and Putin now. When Saddam took military action against Kuwait is was against the background of a changing world. The Soviet Union was having internal problems and Saddam thought the West would not oppose any action he undertook to attack Kuwait. Before that, just like Russia now with NATO/USA in having talks, (that might fail), Iraq had met with the US to discuss terms for peace, but, those talks had come to naught. With his occupation of Kuwait, Saddam thought the West and fellow Arab nations would just roll over and accept Saddam's occupation of Kuwait. Well, we all know, what happened and what followed. Saddam miscalculated big time which led to a war with the US and other nations, which led to a humiliating and disastrous defeat for the Iraqi dictator.
Is Putin any brighter or savvy than Saddam was back in 1990? Putin knows that the USA or NATO will not be sending troops to save Ukraine. However, Putin knows that the US and NATO will send troops to Eastern Europe. This action alone could kick off a conflict between the two sides and lead as many fear to WW III.
Ever since Russia invaded or took back, (from its point of view), Ukraine, a low-level insurgent war has been played out. Russia has been actively aiding insurgents from Crimea in fighting the Ukrainian government. Either by sending weapons or sending troops disguised as Crimean insurgents. This has been going on for 8 years, ever since Russian troops, entered Crimea.
Some analysts have suggested that Russia may launch a limited military operation against Ukraine. Having done that, Russia may then having achieved its military goals, may then sue for peace. It is possible, that Russia, may not want a long-term conflict with Ukraine or possible conflict with the US or NATO. Even if Russia was over to overcome a very well-armed Ukraine, (supplied by the West) and occupied the Ukrainian capital, the Russians may find themselves under severe Western sanctions. Such sanctions would cripple the Russian economy and also, Russia may find itself, in a long-drawn-out insurgent war in Ukraine. A long-drawn-out war in Ukraine with Russian forces facing a determined Ukrainian resistance would also not be in Russia's interest. It would be a drain on Russian resources in both money, time, lives, and equipment. Russia when it was the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a Communist government and found itself at war with the Mujahideen, (which later, some of the Mujahideen transformed into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda). Russia fought them with every conventional weapon it had and yet, (just like Western forces last year), Russia pulled out of the country, with its tail between its legs, in 1988. The US and the West had supplied the Mujahideen with sophisticated weapons, that took a toll on Russian personnel and equipment. So Russia should remember its misadventure in Afghanistan and should not want to get bogged down in a war in Ukraine. Which, based on this scenario, it would be in Putin's interest to launch a military operation with limited goals in Ukraine.
Russia may not have the sophisticated weapons that the US or NATO has or even the military expenditure, (the US spends on its armed forces), however, Russia is still a nuclear-armed nation. In any conflict, Russia has the choice, to use these weapons as does the US and NATO, and therein lies the danger.
Russia-Ukraine is not the only flashpoint in January 2022. China is another nuclear-armed power at loggerheads with the US. It threatens to invade or launch missiles at Taiwan. China regards Taiwan, as a runaway Chinese province and has always had a desire to take action and re-unite Taiwan, with the mainland. This issue is causing high tension between the US and China. Russia and China, know that in the US and the West, they have a common enemy. The two countries remain united and have each other back's in any war with the US and the West. Not unlike, Germany and Japan forming an alliance in WW II.
Other flashpoints remain too between North Korea, Iran, and the West. Both China and Russia are also Allies of these nations, which on a global scale, does not bode well.
Finally, then we can only hope and pray, that at least if peace talks are happening, that's something. Even if both sides are cynical towards each other, at least as Churchill said, "Jaw jaw is better than war-war".