FIGHTER jets have been scrambled by NATO to intercept three Russian military aircraft in dramatic scenes close to the Polish border.
A Dutch F-35 and a German Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft took off after several Russian planes were seen close to the Kaliningrad enclave which borders Poland and Lithuania.
In a statement, the Netherlands' Defence Ministry said: "The then unknown aircraft approached the Polish NATO area of responsibility from Kaliningrad.
"After identification, it turned out to be three aircraft: a Russian IL-20M Coot-A that was escorted by two Su-27 Flankers.
"The Dutch F-35s escorted the formation from a distance and handed over the escort to NATO partners."
Il-20M Coot-A is NATO's reporting name for the Russian Ilyushin Il-20M reconnaissance aircraft while the Su-27 Flankers are NATO's reporting name for the Sukhoi Su-28 fighter aircraft.
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Some eight Dutch F-35s are stationed in Poland until the end of March.
It comes amid fears Vladimir Putin is preparing for a massive new offensive in the coming weeks to coincide with the first anniversary of the war on February 24.
NATO's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said that the Russian offensive has already begun.
Speaking ahead of a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, he said that Russia was "sending more troops, more weapons, more capabilities," to the war in Ukraine.
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Russia is believed to be massing 1,800 tanks, 3,950 armoured vehicles, 400 fighter jets and 300 helicopters for the attack, according to a Ukrainian official.
Ukraine has been monitoring the military build-up as they continue to plea for Western support – including during Volodymyr Zelensky's visit last week to London.
Zelensky hailed the UK for its support, but warned it may not be enough, and called for modern fighter planes.
The new assault is feared to be "much bigger" than the first wave which stormed across the country towards Kyiv almost exactly one year ago.
Today, the governor of Luhansk, an eastern part of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops, warned that "mass attacks" by Russian forces aiming to capture the whole region were expected in the "next few days".
At the same time, on the border with Kaliningrad, tensions are growing between Russia and the European Union.
Poland is building an electronic fence at its border with Kaliningrad Oblast, over fears Russia and Belarus will help migrants across to try and destabilise Europe.
The 200km barrier, which is due to begin construction in March, will include a system of cameras and detectors, according to Polish press sources.
Polish Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska told the Polish Press Agency: "The border guards will be able to control the border (…) The detecting systems will send alerts, the algorithms of which will be constructed in a way that will allow the guards to react to actual attempts of crossing the borders by humans, not animals."
In 2021, thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East attempted to enter Poland through Belarus.
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Poland blamed the pro-Russia government in Minsk for engineering the crisis.
But Putin ally President Lukashenko denied any involvement and accused Warsaw and Brussels of triggering a humanitarian crisis which led to the deaths of several migrants in forests along the border.
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