Russia, I believe, is essentially carrying out a policy of appeasement when it comes to the increasingly powerful China that looms over Russia's sparsely populated Far East (which Russia took from China, recall).
Loudly standing up to an imaginary NATO threat could be seen as an effort to hide that appeasement by insisting in a cost-free way (NATO can't respond militarily to Russian belligerence in a manner that threatens Russia) that China isn't really a threat so Russia really isn't appeasing them.
Could Putin's fixation on NATO just be a result of geographic myopia?
There has been much talk of globalization and the interdependence that has flowed from it. There is clearly much truth in arguing that what happens in one part of the world affects the rest. But that simply was not evident. The eastern and western ends of the Eurasian landmass seem to view each other as if through the wrong side of a telescope. What is near is important. What is distant is someone else's problem far away.
From Moscow, is China just a distant problem that is someone else's problem?
And could the people in the Far East start to think that they are that "someone else" who needs to take responsibility for their own future?
I guess I don't assume that the Russian empire has completed the process of falling apart that began in 1989.