A dark day of massive cruise missile attacks on Ukraine was capped on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 15 with the news that one missile had crossed into Polish air space and exploded at a grain facility close to the border with Ukraine, killing two people and sending social media into a frenzied hysteria over whether or not NATO would now be forced to declare war on Russia.
By Wednesday morning enough information was available to deduce World War 3 was off the cards, for now at least, but the incident could still have serious implications.
What do we know for sure?
The only things that have been 100 percent confirmed at this stage are:
- There was an explosion at a grain facility in the Polish village of Przewodow around four miles from the border with Ukraine
- Two people died in the attack
What don’t we know for sure?
Obviously the big questions being asked right now are who fired the missile and was it deliberate? There are a number of possible answers to these questions, some of which would have massive global implications.
If, for example, it was determined the missile was deliberately launched by Russia at a target inside Poland then NATO would be obliged to trigger Article 5 of its charter, which would see all member countries consider the strike “an attack against them all” and we’d essentially be in a World War 3 scenario.
Thankfully, this does not appear to be what happened.
So what did happen?
Again, it should be stressed that no blame for the incident has been officially attributed but early indications suggest it was, in fact, a Ukrainian air defense missile launched during Russia’s massive strikes at cities across Ukraine on Tuesday.
What makes us think that?
Early reports, including comments from Polish President Andrzej Duda, said the missile was “Russian-made” but as Ukraine uses Soviet-era S-300 air defense systems, this wasn’t enough evidence on its own to attribute blame.
U.S. President Joe Biden, after convening an emergency meeting of world leaders attending the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, said on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 16, that it was “unlikely” the missile was launched from Russia. According to a NATO source quoted by Reuters, Biden later told G7 and NATO partners that a Ukrainian air defence missile was responsible for the blast.
And U.S. officials told the Associated Press that preliminary assessments indicated the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian rocket, an assessment echoed by others including Polish President Andrzej Duda.
As the investigation progressed through Wednesday, official statements became more certain. Polish President Andrzej Duda said after a meeting of NATO members: “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.”
Initial OSINT investigations also supported the claim the missile that fell in Poland was from a Ukrainian air defense system.
What does this all mean?
If confirmed, the incident will have been accidental, albeit one forced by Russia’s continued attacks against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that even if it was confirmed to be a Ukrainian missile, it was clear where the fault lay, saying: “This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
So we’re not in WW3 territory then?
No. Even if the missile turns out to have been launched by Russia, it is difficult to believe that even the Kremlin would have deliberately targeted Polish territory and the far more likely scenario would have been an accidental strike by stray rockets.
This would likely trigger Article 4 of the NATO charter which would lead to consultations on the security threat among the 30 member states but without the obligation to respond with force that would accompany the triggering of Article 5 in the event of a deliberate Russian attack.
Even if confirmed as a Ukrainian air defense missile, Poland was reported to be considering triggering Article 4 but this move has since been dropped. They will however raise the issue at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday.
And any talk of the incident leading to a no-fly zone in Ukraine was quashed by Germany, with a government spokesperson saying: “Together with all our allies we are agreed that we want to avoid a further escalation of this war in Ukraine.”
What has Russia said about the attacks?
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied being responsible for “any strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border” and photos of weapon debris and damage caused by the strike have nothing to do” with Russian weapons.
Despite having a pretty solid track record of lying about every aspect of their reinvasion of Ukraine, at this stage the Kremlin’s line doesn’t appear to be too far from the truth so long as we don’t haggle between the meaning of “Russian weapons” and “Russian-made weapons”.
Taking full diplomatic advantage of the situation on Wednesday, Russia praised Washington’s “measured” response in attributing blame. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “In this instance, attention should be paid to the measured and more professional response from the American side.
“As for the incident in Poland, Russia has nothing to do with it.”
What has Ukraine said about the attacks?
Ukrainian officials could well find themselves in a bit of a sticky situation as they were quick to blame Russian-launched missiles for the incident, without providing any evidence.
In his nightly video address on Tuesday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “What happened today we have been warning about for a long time: We have said that terror is not confined to our state borders.
“The longer Russia feels impunity, the more threats there will be to anyone within reach of Russian missiles. To fire missiles at NATO territory! This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”
As things stand, Zelensky may be forced to retract his claims although there are signs Ukraine is not going to just accept the idea it was one of their missiles. On Wednesday afternoon, one official said there was a “Russian trace” in the explosion but did not elaborate on what this actually meant.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, has also requested access to the site of the explosion. He added that Kyiv was ready to hand over “evidence” of its allegations that Russia was responsible.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has once again asked Western allies to close the skies over Ukraine.
What happens next?
The next big thing to look out for is an emergency meeting of NATO to be held at 11am Kyiv time (9am GMT) in Brussels. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will hold a news conference two hours later.
What’s the bottom line?
Deliberate or not, Russia-launched or not, these missiles are only flying around the skies of Eastern Europe because the Kremlin has launched a genocidal war of imperialist conquest against Ukraine.