The thick forest bordering Poland and Belarus is a place few people would choose to live in. These aren’t normal times.

Today there are thousands of economically displaced people who have set up camp in the freezing cold, determined to reach the EU. Many people are moving here for Britain.

Russian aircraft capable of transporting nuclear weapons are seen circling the sky. Nato warned that they are ready to intervene to aid Poland as a member.

An ancillary development is that there are concerns the Kremlin may be planning to invade Ukraine after its illegal seize of Crimea eight-years ago.

This is a chaotic situation.

MICHAEL BURLEIGH: Putin is hell-bent on disrupting our cosy world view and, if necessary, breaking it apart

MICHAEL BOULEIGH: Putin has a plan to destroy our comfortable world view, and, where necessary, even tear it apart.

It is clear who the real villain is. Alexander Lukashenko was the hard-man President of Belarus and reacted violently to EU sanctions that followed electoral rigging, violence, and the kidnapping of a Ryanair Flight Dissident.

That’s why the Belarus state airline has, since the early summer, devised a cynical plan of flying thousands of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen to the Belarus capital, Minsk. They have all been given ‘tourist’ visas and led to the border to try to gain entry to the EU.

This policy’s puppet master is located 600 miles east of Moscow. For the brutal truth is that this crisis could not have blown up without the direct approval and connivance of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

For the migrants themselves, the situation is hazardous – travelling by night through marshland and dense forest in sub-zero temperatures. Massed security forces will confront them if the migrants make it to Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

Some are even more alarming: There are serious dangers to Europe, and indeed the entire world.

This statement is true.

On Friday, Britain’s senior military officer warned there was ‘a greater risk’ of an accidental war with Russia now than at any time during the Cold War.

General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said the threat of ‘escalation leading to miscalculation’ was ‘a real challenge’. Addressing Western politicians, he said the belligerent character of ‘some of our politics’ can too easily lead to mistaken conflict.

WE’RE in a much more competitive world than we were even ten or 15 years ago. The nature of competition between great power states leads to more tensions.

‘We have to be careful that people don’t end up allowing the bellicose nature of some of our politics to end up in a position where escalation leads to miscalculation.’

Putin is not happy with the idea of turning migrants into weapons and waging a larger, more hybrid war. But it is only one of several points of attack upon the West, which the Kremlin boss goads with cyberattacks, aggressive incursions by ships and aircraft – and now blackmail and extortion using desperate people and gas supplies as weapons.

Pictured: A handout photo issued by Ministry of Defence (MoD) of a RAF fighter jet intercepting a Russian military aircraft approaching a UK area of interest. On Friday, two nuclear-capable Russian Tu-160 'White Swan' bombers entered 'the UK area of interest,' the MoD confirmed after the incident, forcing the RAF to scramble its own fighter jets to escort them away

Pictured is a handout photograph taken by the Ministry of Defence of an RAF fighter jet that intercepted a Russian military plane approaching a UK zone of interest. Two nuclear-capable Russian Tu-160 White Swan’ bombers, both capable of carrying out nuclear attacks, entered the UK’s area of interest on Friday. The MoD confirmed the incident and ordered the RAF’s fighter jets to escort the two aircraft away.

It was an act of aggression on his part to cancel the COP26 summit.

His behaviour is a useful distraction from the problems facing his 144 million people – which include 250,000 Covid deaths, a population in steady decline and the shameful abandonment of Russia’s Far East, now a de facto Chinese colony.

Russia is not as rich as China and has yet to find cheap means of getting the West to lift the sanctions which are crippling his economy.

Few trouble-spots are safe from Russian-backed troops, whether they are in Syria or Mali, Libya, Mali, or the Central African Republic. The White House also believes that Russia is threatening Ukraine.

Control of the iron ore, iron ore or bauxite as well as gold and manganese is at risk in unstable countries like Mali, Central African Republic or Mali. Such regimes provide fresh markets for arms and exports of nuclear technology – industries in which Russia excels.

Putin wants to establish a stronghold in an oil- and gas-rich country by using mercenaries for the support of warlords, politicians and other client groups. The control of Libya also means that Putin has the ability to manage a huge pool of migrants looking to cross into Europe from the Mediterranean.

Migrants have become Putin’s new weapon of choice. It is not difficult to see how more than 1 million migrants have destabilised the EU in recent years.

Putin will be able to learn from the 2015 migration crisis that saw the EU pay an enormous sum to Turkey’s President Erdogan to prevent Syrian and Iraqi migrants crossing the Balkans or Greece. Kremlin thinks Brussels could pay the same ransom to its eastern border countries.

DEPLOYING migrants as weapons of war has been added to another Putin tool of reckless diplomacy – threatening to cut energy supplies to the West.

As a major oil producer and member of the cartel known as OPEC+, Russia gets a big say in global production levels – and the price we pay at the pumps.

But it is Russia’s huge natural gas reserves which give Putin clout. Natural gas is vital for both home heating and industry fuel. It also serves as fertiliser and a component in petro-chemicals. Putin can turn off the gas in times of tension and leave East European customers frozen to death. Britain takes only five per cent of its gas from Russia, but we’re not immune. Since Putin’s refusal to sell any surplus gas to the West, household and industrial prices have risen to an inexpensible level.

Russia supplies half the energy requirements of the EU. And that reliance will persist for the foreseeable future, even though transitioning to renewable energy will take time.

The under-sea Nordstream pipeline delivering gas from Russia to Germany will soon start work, a vast monument to the Kremlin’s stranglehold on energy.

Maybe the Belarus border issue will be resolved temporarily with troops and walls or more razor wire. Or by imposing sanctions on airlines that are complicit in Minsk.

The standoff with Russia should serve as a warning to the West, which seems to lack a strategy for dealing with Russia.

Europe and America focus on China, but we ignore the threat right at our door.

Putin has a plan to destroy our world view, and if necessary even break it up.