Global tension rises as missile lands in Poland

Updated on Nov 17, 2022 06:04 AM IST

Poland has said that a missile strike that killed two people in its territory close to the border with Ukraine was “not an intentional attack”, and was likely to have come from Ukrainian air defence systems, narrowly averting a geopolitical crisis that could have led to a direct conflict between the West and Russia.

Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and President Joe Biden in a late-night huddle. (REUTERS)
Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan and President Joe Biden in a late-night huddle. (REUTERS)
By, Washington

Poland has said that a missile strike that killed two people in its territory close to the border with Ukraine was “not an intentional attack”, and was likely to have come from Ukrainian air defence systems, narrowly averting a geopolitical crisis that could have led to a direct conflict between the West and Russia.

On Tuesday afternoon, a missile strike in Przewodow village, four miles west of Ukraine, killed two people, throwing global geopolitics in turmoil, for a Russian attack on a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member would have marked an unprecedented escalation in the nine-month old war in the European theatre.

Also read | Poland, NATO say missile landing wasn't Russian attack

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, said, “From the information that we and our allies have, it was an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side. It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense.” He added that Ukraine’s defence was launching its missiles in various directions and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was an intentional attack on Poland.”

While the Kremlin denied attacking Poland, there were fears on Tuesday about how, if the attack was attributed to Russia, it would trigger NATO’s Article 5 provision — where an attack on one country is seen as an attack on the entire bloc and triggers collective secure response mechanisms. The United States (US) has supported Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, with military and economic assistance but not deployed troops. But President Joe Biden has consistently warned Russia that the American commitment to its NATO allies is “iron-clad” and any attack would invite a response.

While Russia launched among its most fierce missile strikes across Ukrainian territory and civilian infrastructure on Tuesday, the Kremlin denied it was responsible for the strikes in Poland. A Russian defence ministry statement said, “We want to emphasise that high-precision strikes were delivered only on the territory of Ukraine and at a distance of no closer than 35 kilometers from the Ukrainian-Polish border.

Ukraine, however, was quick to blame Russia for the attack, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying, “Hitting NATO territory with missiles. … This is a Russian missile attack on collective security. This is a really significant escalation. Action is needed.”

But while engaging with their Ukrainian and Polish counterparts, the western alliance was more careful in attributing blame.

In Bali, on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Biden spent hours with his western partners discussing the attack on Poland.He termed the Russian strikes in Ukraine brutal, inhuman and unconscionable, but when asked if the missile against Poland was fired from Russia, Biden told reporters, “There is preliminary information that contests that. I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate. But it’s unlikely, in the minds of the trajectory, that it was fired from Russia. But we will see. We will see.”

A joint statement of G7 and NATO leaders, issued in Bali, also condemned the “barbaric” Russian missile strikes in Ukraine but was cautious on Poland. “We discussed the explosion that took place in the eastern part of Poland near the border with Ukraine. We offer our full support for and assistance with Poland’s ongoing investigation. We agree to remain in close touch to determine appropriate next steps as the investigation proceeds.”

On Wednesday, as Ambassadors of the member countries of the military alliance held an emergency meeting in Brussels, NATO general secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, said that the attack likely emanated from Ukraine defences, but he blamed Russia for the violence. “This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”

Ukraine has contested the West’s assertion, with its security officials calling for a “joint examination” of the incident. Oleskiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, tweeted, “We are ready to hand over evidence of the Russian trace that we have. We are expecting information from our partners based on which a conclusion was made that its a Ukrainian air defence missile.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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