‘Definitely on the table’ Warning as Putin ‘targets NATO’ with full-blown Ukraine invasion

War with Russia over Ukraine is '80% likely' says expert

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Mr Boulegue, a Research Fellow with the London-based think tank’s Russia and Eurasia Programme, was speaking at a time of rising tensions, with more than 100,000 Russian troops located close to the Ukrainian border. Many analysts have suggested it is just a question of time before Mr Putin green-lights military action – and while Mr Boulegue refused to give an unequivocal answer, he nevertheless struck a pessimistic note.

Responding to a question by Express.co.uk, he said: “An invasion isn’t inevitable – it depends on whether the Kremlin can achieve strategic goals through any means necessary.

“If it has to go through simple escalation and to force the United States back to the negotiation table and obtain concessions, then maybe this will be enough.

“If it has to go through a small war with air and ground strikes to prove a point that they can do it and they can put all the territory of Ukraine at risk and force the US into negotiations then they will do that.

“If it has to go through as a large-scale invasion, then this is definitely on the table and this is something they’ve planned, trained and rehearsed for.

“They have all the scenarios planned so it’s not inevitable.”

If Mr Putin concluded war, whatever its scale and size, was necessary for Russia to attain its political strategic goals, he would give the go-ahead, stressed Mr Boulegue.

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They only join it because they’re frightened of Russia, generally.

“Shrinking the range of NATO is a Russian ambition so that it can either establish or maintain various regimes like its own in its near abroad especially.

“If we in the West don’t have clear policies and a degree of unity and opposition to forcing what we think of as illegitimate states on other countries, then this will obviously increase Putin’s power to try to work for such a world.”

Such an outcome would also have the effect of making it much more difficult for the population of Russia itself, Sir Andrew said.

He added: “If Putin’s policies succeed in the longer run, then I think we face a degree of mounting chaos in the end in Russia itself, and the end of Putin’s rule could become dangerously chaotic.”

The ongoing crisis also had also exposed divisions within the alliance, Sir Andrew said.

He said: “It is already very damaging to NATO. On a symbolic level, we’ve all said we’re going to unite and do things.

“On a practical level, there’s been disagreement from quite a number of members of NATO, particularly Germany, and particularly France, for making a counter suggestion that they would, on behalf of Europe, negotiate a special arrangement with Russia, which is incredible anyway.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is considering doubling the number of troops deployed to strengthen Europe’s borders, as he warned an incursion from Russia into Ukraine would be a “tragedy”.

Mr Johnson said the new offer to NATO currently under consideration would “send a clear message to the Kremlin” that “we will not tolerate their destabilising activity”.

In addition to bolstering troop numbers, Downing Street said it could also send defensive weapons to Estonia.

Fast jets, warships and military specialists may also be sent to protect NATO allies.

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