For the first time in this round of the Ukraine crisis, President Vladimir Putin has explicitly threatened that Russia will use force against Ukraine and its Nato supporters.

Russia is considering a “military-technical response” to what it considers provocative and threatening postures by Nato, the Russian leader said yesterday. Hitherto he has said that Russia was trying to avoid direct action and war.

Ukrainian leaders and western intelligence now expect some kind of provocative incident around Ukraine, Belarus or the Baltic republics – now Nato members – in the next few days or weeks. “It could even be some sort of incident by provocateurs inside Ukraine,” according to Hanna Shelest, head of Ukraine Analytica in Kyiv.