More than 100,000 Russian troops which had lined the Ukraine border were given the green light by Vladimir Putin to begin the invasion of their neighbour nearly a month ago. Over the past four weeks, missiles have rained down on cities throughout Ukraine, with explosions seen in many of the country’s major cities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been at the forefront of a heroic and spirited resistance from his country – as they push back the attempts at Russian occupation.
But the war has seen millions of Ukrainians flee in fear of Putin’s regime, with several European countries coming forward to house refugees.
Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy expert and former aide to Margaret Thatcher, believes Putin will target Baltic states – with Lithuania a prime target – if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proves to be a success.
He said: “Ukraine is a test case for further wars of expansion.
“If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he will have his sights set on the Baltic states next.
“Lithuania would be the immediate prime target.
“We must be prepared for a Russian military move against the Baltic’s in the very near term.”
But he believes Putin’s long-term target could be Europe and warned the continent will have to significantly ramp up its defence spending should this horrifying prospect come to fruition.
The expert told Express.co.uk: “This is just the beginning of his game plan for Europe.
READ MORE: Putin reeling as elite regiment decimated in Kyiv battle
“If we don’t, what you see in Ukraine will happen in other parts of Europe.”
Mr Gardiner picked Britain as the one country that could lead the charge against the Russians, but warned Boris Johnson the country may have to double its current defence spending to be able to compete against Moscow in Europe.
The UK expenditure on defence as a percentage of national GDP in 2020 was 2.3 percent, according to a report from the Ministry of Defence in November 2021 – easily putting the country above the two percent guideline set by NATO for its members.
In the same year, Britain’s spending on defence increased once again, up by 0.2 percent from 2019.
NATO also sets a guideline that its members should spend at least 20 percent of their defence budget on equipment and, in 2020, the UK spent 22.2 percent of its defence expenditure on equipment.
Britain has been widely-praised for its military response during Russia’s invasion, throwing its support behind Ukraine by sending it anti-tank missiles, defensive weapons and ammunition.
Mr Johnson has held several calls with Ukrainian President Mr Zelensky in continued pledges to work with Western allies to provide even more military equipment to Kyiv.
But Mr Gardiner warned: “Europe has a big decision to make – to go down the road of appeasement or whether European governments are going to spend more on defence.
“Britain, as the leading opponent of Russia in Europe, has to significantly increase military capability.
“Defence spending should double from two percent to four percent in the coming years if Britain is serious about being a world power again that can stand up to the likes of Russia and China.
“Britain has demonstrated tremendous political leadership on so many fronts with regards to Ukraine but the reality is, Britain needs to be able to fight and win a ground war against the Russians in Europe.”