The defiant Vladimir Putin made a bold threat to the West during a surprise trip to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
The despot warned that the countries bordering the Baltic Sea region were not prepared for “what is coming” after many decided to demolish Soviet war memorials.
During his surprise visit on Thursday, during which Putin flew close to NATO airspace, the 71-year-old told students at Kant Baltic Federal University: “This is shocking ignorance and lack of understanding about where they live, what they do and what .” will follow.'
The region, which borders Poland and Lithuania, both formerly occupied by the Soviet Union before regaining independence, is seen as the most likely flashpoint for a conflict between Russia and NATO.
The British government has revealed that it believes there is a one in four chance of Russia attacking one of Britain's allies in the next two years, potentially triggering a war.
Vladimir Putin takes part in a meeting on the social and economic development of Russia's Kaliningrad region in Kaliningrad on Thursday
Putin listens to Kaliningrad Region Governor Anton Alikhanov during a meeting on Thursday
The wreckage of a burnt car seen in the streets of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine after a Russian missile attack
Marking the two-year anniversary of Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine, ministers said any escalation involving attacks on British allies must trigger a military response.
Cabinet Office experts have warned that if this happens, “military, diplomatic and economic capacity will be required to contain and deter further aggression,” the Telegraph reports.
Other knock-on effects would include rising fuel prices and supply chain disruptions that could harm the economy for years.
That could be the case if Putin decides to invade a NATO ally such as Poland, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, or Finland, which became the 31st country to join the military pact last year.
Last week, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – which were under Soviet occupation for decades after World War II – agreed to build a wall of “anti-mobility defenses” to maintain their security against Russia.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania's foreign minister, said this week that his country is “convinced that there is a real war.” [with Russia] is a likely possibility.
There are indications that the same thing could happen if Russia also took military action against Britain's non-NATO allies such as Sweden.
Sweden has applied to join NATO, but its entry into the organization has been prevented by delays from Turkey and Hungary, the latter remaining the only country yet to accept its application.
When he was prime minister, Boris Johnson signed an agreement with the Scandinavian country in which Britain agreed to stand by him if it were attacked by Russia.
Earlier this week it was reported that the head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, wanted to warn that British citizens could be called up to fight in the event of a conflict with Russia.
General Sir Patrick Sanders, who issued a warning this week about possible conflict with foreign adversaries
Vladimir Putin will chair a meeting on social and economic development in Kaliningrad on Thursday
General Sir Patrick – who has openly criticized manpower shortages in the military – believes there should be a “change” in the mindset of the public, who should be prepared to defend the UK against foreign adversaries.
But while the army chief – who is stepping down in six months after reportedly falling out with Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the armed forces commander in chief – is not expected to support conscription, NATO chiefs have warned allied nations to prepare to take all necessary measures to combat Vladimir Putin's forces.
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said there were plans to “mobilize volunteers” if something like this were to happen, but “no one is thinking” about a draft.
When asked whether Rishi Sunak might rule out conscription in the future, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: “There is no indication of that.”
“The government has no intention of going through with this.” The British military has a proud tradition as a volunteer force. There are no plans to change that.”
Meanwhile, the war rages on in Eastern Europe, with Ukraine rejecting Kremlin claims that 65 prisoners of war died when a Russian transport plane was shot down.
They are convinced that Russia invented the story of the tragedy as a propaganda stunt. According to Ukraine, the plane was empty except for its Russian crew members when it was shot down.
The Mail understands that Western security officials share Ukrainians' suspicions about who was or was not on board the plane. One aspect of Moscow's portrayal that appears to be fake concerns the publication of so-called passenger lists.
The content of video footage from the crash site in western Russia, which showed a small amount of human remains, was also suspected.
An investigator from the Russian Intelligence Committee is examining the crash site where an Il-76 transport plane crashed earlier this week
Moscow has accused Ukraine of killing over 60 Ukrainian prisoners of war; Ukraine has not denied shooting down the plane, but has accused Russia of faking the deaths of prisoners of war
According to Russia, there were around 74 people on board, including more than 60 Ukrainian prisoners of war and Russian flight crew
Just hours after Wednesday's crash, Russian media published lists of who was allegedly on board the plane when it was shot down. However, Ukraine said some of those listed were actually repatriated as part of previous prisoner of war exchanges.
The Kremlin claims that more than 70 people traveled on the Ilyushin II-76 plane – prisoners of war and crew members.
But a video released by the Russian Investigative Committee showed a block of twisted metal and wires, as well as some human remains of one or two people. No other human remains were shown.
Ukrainian human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said: “We found Ukrainian citizens on the list who have already been exchanged.”
“Furthermore, if there were photos and videos of our prisoners of war (at the crash site), Russia would have already published them.”
“There is no indication that there were that many people on the plane.”
Lubinets added that he was “very surprised” at how quickly Russia responded publicly to the crash.
Russia's transparency contradicts previous statements on reported plane crashes, which have typically been far more reserved.
She did not comment when Kiev claimed last week that it had shot down a Russian A-50 reconnaissance plane and damaged an Il-22 bomber over the Sea of Azov.
And when Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a plane crash on the flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Putin said the plane crashed after a grenade exploded on board. No evidence was presented.