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.
Stressing the investigation into the incident was ongoing, he said: “There is preliminary information that contests that.
“I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate it, but it is unlikely in the lines of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia but we’ll see.”
And U.S. officials told the Associated Press that preliminary assessments indicated the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian rocket.
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.
So far, official statements have reflected this line with NATO calling it a “tragic incident”.
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 is still likely to trigger Article 4 and raise the issue at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday
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”.
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. Nevertheless, 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.