If you have not catch up on the history already go read this decent NYT article
The war is not a surprise to anyone and this explain the level of readiness of the Russian.
Do not pay too much attention to the rhetoric on both side. Georgia may be a democracy but more in the Russian sense than what the founding father had in mind when they wrote the US constitution.
The most important element that western media tend to forget is that Gerogia started this round. On August 7 they fired rounds of heavy artillery, large-caliber mortar and Glad multiple launch rockets on Tskhinvali. A clear and brutal act of aggression that begged a response from Russia.
The real question is why?
Ossetia is an impoverished piece of land with no natural resources. The province has been more or less autonomous for a while and short of an ethical cleansing impossible for the Georgian to control.
I try to never underestimate the stupidity of politicians that use patriotic rhetoric but provoking Russia is pure suicide. It is a loosing move for Georgia from the beginning. There must be more to it so lets zoom out a bit.
So where does the move come from?
The players are Europe and the US. Europe has a strong interest in keeping peace around its borders and want to avoid confrontation with Russia at all price. This leave the US as the architect.
I can see two possible reasons for this move.A play to reinforce NATO.
The Russian drew the red line on Georgia and Ukraine. After the war is over the US will have the green light to come protect "the peace". Georgia will become a direct NATO/US protectorate even if they will not become an official member in the short run. What is here for Georgia? Reconstruction money, a lot of it. This will be a god send for the ruling party. Also they will clearly move out of the Russian sphere of influence.
For the US? A big finger at Russia next to their border, but more importantly the control of a chock point. Just look at the map of the region. It will help isolate Russia from the middle east and surround Iran even more. The US will also be able to personally protect the pipelines in the region.
Also this crisis will reinvigorate the importance of NATO in Europe. Europe as lost interest in NATO after the cold war was over. There is no more direct utility for it, therefore no good reason to accept US military dominance inside Europe. But with Russia showing its claws again Europe will probably reinforce their commitment to the alliance.
The second reason might be a side move on Iran
. Military actions in Iran, in the form of air strikes or a maritime blockade, are becoming more and more likely as the electoral victory of Obama seem unavoidable.
There is two possibilities here. Just distracting the Russian or creating a bargaining piece. We do not flood Georgia with advanced weapons system like we did in Afghanistan if you let us fuck Iran.
The timing is also critical. The Olympic game makes it easy to push all the action under the radar. More importantly; China, the other potential player in Iran, will have its hands tied for the duration of the games.
If this is about Iran things will be moving very fast to keep taking advantage of the game.