Missile strikes in Poland: a major escalation risk avoided

On November 16, 2022, a “Russian-made” missile fell in Poland, during the bombardment of Ukraine by Russia. This event threatened to raise tensions in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
What do we know
The location of Przewodów in Poland, near the border with Ukraine – Euronews

On Wednesday, November 16, 2022, a “Russian-made” missile fell in Przewodów, a village located in eastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border. It took place during the bombardment of the Ukrainian territory by Russia. Strikes were reported in a dozen Ukrainian regions, including Lviv, which is located near the Polish border. The explosion occurred at a grain drying facility, leaving a crater about five meters in diameter and two meters deep. Two people were killed, according to announcements from the Polish Foreign Ministry.

The scene of the explosion in Przewodow, REUTERS
The nature of the incident

Due to the event, the ambassadors of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) met urgently on Wednesday morning at the request of Warsaw, while the G20 was being held in Bali (Indonesia). Western leaders have first dismissed the idea of a voluntary shooting of Russia. After all, a Russian-made missile would not probably mean that Russia used it. Polish President Andrzej Duda considered on Wednesday “highly probable” that the missile was fired by the Ukrainian defense. He said that it was an “unfortunate accident” due to a Ukrainian projectile. “There is no indication that this was an intentional attack on Poland.”

NATO emergency meeting during the G20 in Bali on November 16th, Europe 1

The first results of an investigation showed that the explosion was caused by the Ukrainian air defenses, probably due to an anti-missile device to intercept Russian missiles. These are the words of Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO announced at the end of the meeting of the Alliance’s ambassadors of the Alliance. It was definitively not a deliberate act, the NATO chief concluded.

Investigators in Przewodow (Poland) where the missile fell, photo by the Polish police ©AFP – HANDOUT / POLISH POLICE / AFP
An escalation risk avoided

The fall of the missile on Przewodow initially raised fears in NATO, of which  Poland is a member. Effectively, article 5 of the Treaty of the Atlantic Alliance affirms that if a Member State is the victim of an armed attack, it will be considered an act of violence directed against all the members. They will so take the necessary measures deemed necessary to come to the aid of the attacked country. If an attack of Russian origin was confirmed, it would constitute a serious aggravation of the conflict in Ukraine. Effectively, NATO could be directly drawn into the conflict. The international community, except Ukraine, which blames Moscow, has been trying to avoid an escalation in the conflict, as Russia denied being behind the strike. Hence the insistence on not jumping to conclusions, the need for caution and waiting for ‘all facts’ to be established before making a decision.

Ukrainian and Russian reactions
Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine / AFP

Russia and Ukraine are mutually accusing each other. Volodymyr Zelensky still blames Russia for having fired missiles at Poland, even after the NATO deductions. The Ukrainian president affirmed directly on Wednesday that the missile was Russian and not Ukrainian, despite the affirmation of Poland. He is pointing to Moscow’s responsibility. “I have no doubt that missile was not ours” said Zelensky said publicly. It is “nothing more than a message from Russia addressed to the G20 summit”, he estimated during a videoconference with the NATO leaders. His opinion is not shared by the alliance though. Ukraine requested immediate access to the location where the missile fell and also participated in the investigation.

On the other side, Vladimir Poutine had not directly reacted to the missile. Russia qualified these accusations as “deliberate provocation”. The ministry responded that “Russia has nothing to do with the incident in Poland” and “No strikes were carried out on targets close to the Ukrainian-Polish border” by the Russian army. Moscow has claimed that Russian strikes in Ukraine had not been closer than 35 km from the Polish border.

However, from the United States’ point of view, Russia remains responsible for this incident since they started the war, and “Ukraine had, and has, the right to defend itself” The NATO Secretary General also added that the Allies will continue “to support Ukraine’s right to self-defense”. Due to this tragedy, Poland raised its military alert level. A conflict aggravation was avoided, at least for now.

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