The general said: ‘The possibility of local armed conflicts along nearly the whole border has increased dramatically.Part of the concern seems to be that a number of states which acted as buffer states during the Cold War, have now joined NATO.
‘In certain conditions, I do not rule out local and regional armed conflicts developing into a large-scale war, including using nuclear weapons.’
While warnings of nuclear war are believable when discussing Iran (whose leaders are religious fanatics), or Pakistan/India, the warning from Russia to whom (presumably NATO or the US) seems more in the realm of hyperbole. I understand Russia's desire for buffer states--they are a land power with long open borders that have historically made Russia vulnerable to invasion from neighboring powers. The destruction visited on Russia and its people during WWII is beyond the knowledge or imagination of most Americans. As a naval power, with (historically) little to fear as to physical invasion, most Americans don't understand this fear of invasion. The reason that I view this as hyperbole, or at least misdirection, is that Russia does not face an existential threat from Europe. In fact, as NATO as shown in Libya and the various Middle-Eastern conflicts, Europe has grown old and toothless.
Russia also does not face an existential threat from the United States (other than for nuclear weapons). First, direct conflict between the two powers is minimized because of physical separation which minimizes friction. I suppose that there might someday be a dispute over the Bering Straight or the Arctic, but that seems remote. The second is that the U.S. is incapable of quickly invading Russia. It simply does not have the sea-lift capability. One of the reasons for the large U.S. bases in Europe during the Cold War was to have troops predeployed. (This is why the U.S. is expanding its military presence in Australia--to predeploy troops against China). These issues, plus the concept of mutually assured destruction, means that a nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States is probably remote.
Russia's real existential threats are two-fold. First, China. China shares a long border with Russia, and has the military power to challenge Russia. It is the only nation that has a realistic chance of invading and defeating Russia in a conventional conflict.
Second, demographics. Russia has one of the lowest birth-rates in the world. In a literal sense, the future belongs to those that have children. Russia's ethnic minorities, particular Muslim, in southern Russia and in the nations and regions along its south will simply outgrow ethnic Russians.