Missile Origin Unclear As NATO Scrambles Jets In Response
Amid a massive wave of Russian missile strikes across Ukraine on Thursday, an unidentified object crossed into Polish territory before exiting back into Ukraine, Polish authorities said. Though the object’s origins and nature remain uncertain, the incident prompted Poland to raise its military readiness levels and summon Russia’s ambassador for an explanation.
The event comes at an already fraught time, with Russia firing over 120 missiles in a blistering attack across Ukraine that left infrastructure damaged and millions without power. Coming on the heels of Russia’s withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson in November, the strikes appear to be part of Moscow’s strategy to disable Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and grind down resistance as the war approaches its one-year anniversary.
Table summarizing key events regarding incident in Poland:
|Unidentified object enters Polish airspace from Ukraine
|Polish military jets scrambled to site where object seen on radar
|Object exited Polish airspace and crashed in Ukraine
|Poland raises military readiness, summons Russian ambassador
|Biden & NATO say missile likely Ukrainian air defense, not Russian
Unidentified Object Spotted Over Border Region
The Polish Foreign Ministry first reported that an “unidentified object” had penetrated roughly 6 kilometers (4 miles) into Polish territory, near the Ukraine border, at approximately 10:40 CET on Thursday. The object appeared in an area where Polish surface-to-air missile batteries are stationed near the village of Przewodów.
Poland’s president Andrzej Duda stated “Most likely, this was a Russian-made missile, used by Ukraine’s defense forces,” implicating the possibility it could have been a Ukrainian air defense missile rather than a deliberate Russian strike. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg echoed this, saying initial analysis suggests the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.
While the object’s exact origins are still being investigated, officials were quick to tamp down speculation of a purposeful Russian attack, instead pointing to the likelihood it was related to Ukraine’s missile interception attempts.
Poland Mobilizes Military Forces As Object Vanishes
After reports emerged of the object at 10:40 CET, Polish authorities acted swiftly to respond. Local media reported that the country’s Joint Forces Command raised the readiness level of some military units, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urgently convening a committee to coordinate efforts around the incident.
Around 11:15 CET, Polish Air Force jets were reportedly scrambled to patrol the area where the object was spotted. However, the object ultimately vanished from Polish radars around 12:30 CET, crashing in Ukraine after exiting Polish airspace near the border village of Przewodów.
In the aftermath, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak stated “The systems worked perfectly. We had an adequate response. Airspace control worked properly.” Still, President Duda said Poland may consider invoking Article 4 of NATO treaty, allowing Polish authorities to call for consultations with other NATO members if they view their security is threatened.
For its part, Ukraine has offered full cooperation and access to the crash site to investigative teams. Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s national security council, warned however that “instead of investigating all circumstances of the incident jointly, Russia embarked on a frenzy of disinformation, provocations and threats.”
Heightened Alert As NATO Responds Forcefully
The incident prompted forceful reactions from NATO, as the alliance went into heightened alert status following reports of the Polish border incursion. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg made clear that “We stand ready to defend all allies.”
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson stated American officials have offered Poland “full support” for its ongoing investigation. President Biden himself pledged “total U.S commitment to NATO.” The alliance moved swiftly, with Poland triggering NATO crisis consultations under Article 4 shortly after the incursion was first reported.
A range of European officials also weighed in, affirming their steadfast backing for Poland as a core NATO ally. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK “will support our allies however they need” regarding this “hugely concerning situation.”
French leader Emmanual Macron similarly vowed “solidarity with Poland” while conveying France’s “availability to assist Polish authorities.” Charles Michel, President of the European Council, tweeted that “Further inquiries are needed, but we stand by Poland.”
Russia Denies Involvement As Speculation Grew
Initially, a wave of speculation swirled regarding Russia’s potential culpability. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky squarely stated “This is a Russian missile attack,” warning ominously it represented a “considerably escalation” of the conflict.
Some Western analysts posited the object could have been an errant Russian missile from the massive bombardment campaign throughout Ukraine on Thursday. Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis conjectured the crashed object was a Russian cruise missile knocked off course by Ukrainian air defenses.
However, by the afternoon, Poland, NATO and also Ukrainian began coalescing around the view that the missile was likely an S-300 air defense rocket fired by Ukraine which went astray.
Throughout, Russia vociferously denied any blame, chalking up the Poland border incident as intentional “provocation” aimed at escalating tensions. A Russian defense ministry spokesperson dismissed claims its army was somehow involved: “No strikes were made against targets near the Ukrainian-Polish state border by Russian means of destruction.”
What Comes Next?
In the short term, establishing the facts around what exactly transpired in Poland will be crucial. Biden and Stoltenberg’s statements that the missile was Ukraine’s, not Russia’s could help dial down initial fears of the war directly impacting NATO territory.
Poland will likely leverage the NATO Article 4 proceedings to gain a fuller picture of events and shape the alliance’s response. Further Ukrainian-NATO cooperation addressing Western air defense aid to Kyiv also appears probable.
In the big picture, while the “fog of war” undoubtedly played a role, the Polish border missile mishap emphasizes the increasing risks as the Russia-Ukraine conflict drags on with no resolution in sight. As Stoltenberg noted gravely, “This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility.”
With Russia continuing its attempted decimation of Ukraine’s electricity and heating networks through the winter, the chances of misfired munitions occasionally going astray seems destined to remain elevated for the foreseeable future.
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