Warsaw, Nusa Dua, Moscow Late Tuesday evening is an evening of terror. A missile hits Poland, a member of NATO. Two people die. Is this the first Russian attack on NATO territory? In a video speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks of an “escalation”. We now have proof that “Russian terror is not limited by our state borders”. Moscow, on the other hand, speaks of “a targeted provocation” by Ukraine.
At their summit in Indonesia, representatives of the G20 countries and NATO immediately switched to emergency mode. The heads of government are on the phone, discussing, urging caution – but the central question remains unanswered for the time being: will the incident trigger a disastrous chain reaction that could draw the transatlantic defense alliance into war with Russia?
A Russian provocation on Polish territory would be a horror scenario, because Article 5 of the NATO founding treaty states that an attack on a member country is considered an attack on all NATO members.
Then on Wednesday the all-clear. After a crisis meeting, NATO said that it was most likely a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that caused the deadly explosion on Polish territory. However, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda emphasized that they do not see Kyiv as responsible – because Ukraine was only trying to defend itself. Duda spoke of an “unfortunate accident”, not a direct attack on his country.
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Fear of an escalation of the war
At least that ruled out something that Chancellor Olaf Scholz had repeatedly warned about: that NATO would be drawn into the war. A targeted Russian attack against Poland would have meant that the defensive alliance could not have avoided a decisive and clear reaction. Also to remain credible.
However, the case is far from over. After the end of the G20 summit in Bali, Scholz warned that the cause of the impact should not be lost sight of. The incident would not have happened “without the Russian war against Ukraine, without the missiles that are now being fired intensively and on a large scale at the Ukrainian infrastructure”. This sounded similar to other G20 leaders. Tenor: The immediate cause of the missile hit in Poland was a Ukrainian ricochet, but Russia is fundamentally responsible for the incident.
In fact, hours before the incident, the military situation had escalated with a massive Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities. According to Ukrainian information, the energy supply was so severely damaged that at times ten million people in the country had to endure without electricity.
According to Western experts, the more than 90 rockets that fell in Kyiv and other places in Ukraine on Tuesday could have been Vladimir Putin’s response to the humiliation in Bali. Shortly before the official start of the summit on the Indonesian island, the western states had already negotiated a joint declaration containing a condemnation of the war – even if it is made clear that only “most” G20 members see it that way.
On Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the official acceptance of the final declaration, the 19-page document that negotiators had negotiated in extremely long and difficult talks before the summit meeting.
But did that have any meaning at all? Wasn’t the summit in vain because Russia’s rocket attacks made it clear that it would not allow itself to be dictated to by other G20 countries and that it doesn’t give a damn about condemnations?
Chancellor Scholz made it clear that he saw things differently. “An extraordinary G20 summit took place here in Indonesia,” said the SPD politician on Wednesday after the end of the conference. “The fact that there were agreements here that went far beyond what was to be expected remains the success of this summit.”
Scholz condemned the violent attacks on Ukraine: “We note that electricity plants are being destroyed, that substations are being hit, that the water supply is being destroyed. This form of warfare in this already unjustified war is unacceptable.” Together with Ukraine and NATO partners, they will examine what consequences the massive Russian bombardment in Ukraine will have for Ukraine’s other military equipment.
But Poland also wants to support the federal government more, which is the consequence of the rocket attack in the border area. The Bundeswehr will strengthen the country’s airspace surveillance in the future, it said in Berlin.
NATO Secretary General gives the all-clear: “No indication of a deliberate attack”
Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda also emphasized the importance of strong air surveillance on NATO’s eastern border. Although the missile impact in Poland did not change the level of the military threat, it did show that anti-aircraft systems on NATO’s eastern flank would have to be stationed much more quickly in future. “Lithuania will actively support the use of air defense along the Polish-Ukrainian border.” This also applies to the rest of the eastern flank.
Stefan Meister, Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), praised the level-headed reaction of the defense alliance. He told the Handelsblatt: “Nato does not want to be drawn directly into this war under any circumstances.” Nevertheless, he spoke of a risky situation “that could have led to a knee-jerk reaction”. He also criticized Ukrainian rhetoric. Ukrainian President Zelensky spoke of “Russia’s rocket terror” on Tuesday. “Ukraine, and in particular President Zelensky, is rhetorically toying with getting NATO more involved. It is hoped that this will result in more military support.”
>> Read here: The war is about to escalate to a dangerous level
He was amazed that such an incident had not happened sooner after so many months of war. Incidents like these certainly increase “the danger of a major war in which NATO is directly involved with its own troops”. Now the focus must be on enlightenment.
It is already probable that it was the impact of an S-300 rocket. Ulrich Kühn, head of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH), told the Handelsblatt: “The system is relatively old, it comes from the Soviet Union.” Russia has been selling the weapon to various countries for many years, including also to Ukraine.
To think that the rocket must also have been shot down by the Russians is therefore a false conclusion. In principle, the rockets are “quite accurate,” says Kühn. “But we’re talking about a 40-year-old system: Of course it happens that such rockets fly in a different direction.” Historically, there have always been cases of errors. In addition, one cannot control where the debris falls.
More: “Such incidents are the worst case” – that is what a Russia expert says about the missile impact in Poland