There is a “real and present danger” that Russia will try to destabilise Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Britain’s defence secretary has said.
Michael Fallon said he was concerned about the “pressure” Putin was putting on former Soviet states, especially in Ukraine, adding that he could soon apply similar tactics to the Baltic.
He added that Nato must be ready for aggression from Russia “in whatever form it takes”.
Sky News reports that Mr Fallon told journalists during a flight to Sierra Leone, where British troops are helping fight the Ebola outbreak, that he was “worried” about Putin and his “pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing Nato.”
The defence secretary said that Russia would likely use covert tactics similar to those used to annex Crimea and destabilise eastern Ukraine. Russia has been accused of helping separatist rebels in the troubled country, but has constantly denied sending weapons and troops.
Rather than being a new “Cold War”, he said, it was already “pretty warm”.
“You have tanks and armour rolling across the Ukrainian border and you have an Estonian border guard being captured and not yet still returned.
“When you have jets being flown up the English Channel, when you have submarines in the North Sea, it looks to me like it’s warming up.”
Earlier this month, two long-range Russian bombers flew down the English Channel off the southern British coast. “It is the first time since the height of the Cold War that has happened and it just shows you the need to respond each time he does something like that,” Mr Fallon said.
His comments come after British prime minister David Cameron urged European leaders to tell Putin that Russia faces sanctions “for years to come” if it does not stop interfering in Ukraine.
“Those Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, they are using Russian rocket launchers, Russian tanks, Russian artillery, you can’t buy this equipment on eBay.
“It hasn’t come from somewhere else, it’s come from Russia and we know that.
“So we have to be very firm and strong about the sanctions and say to Vladimir Putin: ‘What you are doing is unacceptable and it will have economic and financial consequences for many years to come if you do not desist with your behaviour’.”