Russia's top military commander warned on Thursday of a growing threat of conflicts along its borders that could even escalate into a nuclear war.
"The possibility of local armed conflicts along nearly the whole border has increased sharply," General Nikolai Makarov said, citing the fact that many of the country's Soviet partners are gravitating towards Nato.
The Baltic states and Eastern European countries in the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact defence treaty have already joined, while Georgia and Ukraine have expressed a desire to join the Western defence alliance that was once the menace of USSR and is still considered Russia's enemy by conservatives.
"In certain conditions I don't rule out local and regional armed conflicts developing into a large-scale war, including using nuclear weapons," Makarov said, RIA Novosti reported.
Russia fought a short war with its former Soviet partner Georgia in August 2008 over a contested region near Russia's southern fringe. The two countries remain bitter enemies as Georgia is strongly pursuing Nato membership.
Russia has borders with nuclear weapons powers China and North Korea and is also deeply concerned about the risk of a conflict between nearby Iran and Israel over Tehran's controversial atomic programme.
Makarov's hawkish remarks come as the country is also in the midst of a complicated and costly military reform, while facing a demographic crunch in its army ranks.
"We can only draft 11.7 per cent of all youth," Makarov said, complaining that most are ineligible for health reasons. "We are facing the fact that there is almost no one to draft into the armed forces," he said.