VLADIMIR Putin could eventually invade NATO countries if he seizes Ukraine as troops mass on the Polish border, the United States has warned.
The Russian despot never hesitated to want to rebuild the Soviet Union.
Russia launched an all-out war against Ukraine, with simultaneous attacks from the south, east and north, by land and air.
Tanks crossed the border, missiles and bombs rained down and helicopters arrived after Putin gave the order to attack.
And there are fears Ukraine could be the first stop for the Russian supremo after he unleashed terror on the country in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Putin may be emboldened by the invasion of Ukraine and seek to take on other Eastern European nations.
A massive buildup of troops has reportedly already been spotted in the Belarusian city of Brest – just 10 miles east of the Polish border.
Jack Detsch, Pentagon and national security correspondent at Foreign Policy, said satellite images show Russia massed troops, armor, artillery and equipment carriers in a training area in Brest.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said it was “possible” that Putin could aim beyond Ukraine.
He told ABC News: “Is it possible for Putin to go beyond Ukraine? Of course it is a possibility.”
But he warned that Putin stepping on Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania would mean invading a NATO member country.
This would automatically drag the United States, United Kingdom and the other nations of the 30-nation military alliance into the spiraling conflict.
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Mr Blinken said: “That means an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members.
“The president has been very clear that we will defend every inch of NATO territory.”
The US Secretary of State said he believed it would be the “strongest deterrent” against Putin’s move beyond Ukraine to Europe.
Russia has previously used “Hitler-style” land grabs – such as in Crimea and Georgia – while forging key alliances with dictators in neighboring states to expand its influence.
Putin’s moves have been compared to those used by the Nazis in the days leading up to World War II – such as the annexation of Czechoslovakia.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all former Soviet states – fear they will be next after any military action against Ukraine.
Mikk Marran, the head of Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, warned of a potential military clash – and said “various types of hybrid crises are likely”.
Marran said a large-scale assault in the short term is unlikely – but the attack on Ukraine will increase military pressure on the Baltic states.
“Even if the Russian leadership can be persuaded to renounce military aggression, Estonia and other Western countries must prepare for increasingly sustained military pressure from Russia – direct threats of war have become part of Putin’s Russian foreign policy over the past year,” Marran told Sky News.
And a recent report from Foreign Police said Baltic citizens fear they are “next on the menu” for Putin.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are all members of NATO – if Russia attacked any of them, it would trigger a response from the alliance.
Each of the Baltic states has around 1,000 NATO troops based there – who were displaced after Putin first invaded Ukraine in 2014 to seize Crimea.
They all share land borders with Russia and are close to the Russian military enclave of Kaliningrad.
NUCLEAR WAR FEARS
Admiral Lord West, a former head of the Royal Navy, has warned that any further expansion by Putin into the Baltics could trigger World War III.
“When you talk about the Baltic states, you talk about NATO and you talk about a world war,” Lord West told Sun Online.
He added: “I hope Putin doesn’t want a world war, and nobody wants thermonuclear armageddon, do they?”
Lord West said Putin would “enjoy” the current crisis as he is at the center of the world stage – and it will boost his image in Russia.
But he said things could turn on Putin fairly quickly if he found his army mired in a “bloodbath” and “quagmire” after invading Ukraine.
Russia has been trying for years to expand its influence over former Soviet states, either through aggression or courting dictators.
He has already helped support governments in Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – which Putin repeatedly lamented as a “tragedy”.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, the United States and Russia were considered almost equal world powers.
But since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the communist union, Russia is desperately seeking status.
Putin has now been in power for more than 20 years – and is on a mission to bring Moscow back to the top.
US Navy Captain Gary Tabach, a former NATO chief of staff in Moscow, told The Sun Online that Putin dreams of reuniting the Soviet Union, including the Baltic countries.
Mr Tabach said Putin would “laugh out loud” at the current crisis as the West continues to try to come up with an answer.
He added: “It’s like Hitler, you give him a finger, he’ll take your hand. It all depends on whether you’re going to be ready and whether you’re going to have the political will to stop.
“If you give him something, he will take it and he will ask for more”.
“If you let [Putin] come to the United States, he would invade that. Norway, North Pole, South Pole, he will take it all.
“These maniacs like Stalin, Hitler, Putin, Pol Pot, they’re going to take it all. They want to create their own world.”