NATO: It is Never Ukraine's Fault
Last week, a wayward missile almost brought NATO into direct conflict with Russia.
While Americans were preoccupied with determining the results of the 2022 midterm elections, a wayward missile almost brought NATO into direct conflict with Russia.
On November 15, Polish authorities announced that an explosion had killed two people at a grain-processing plant close to the Ukrainian border following a Russian missile barrage on Ukrainian territory to which the Ukrainians responded by firing defensive missiles of their own. Shortly after the missile fell on the Polish agricultural outfit, the Polish Foreign Ministry assessed that the missile was Russian-made.
But in a conflict between Russia and a post-Soviet country, that wasn't saying much. Ukraine uses Soviet-era MiG-29s and other Soviet-era weaponry. Poland itself uses MiG-29s, which were part of a proposed jet transfer program to Ukraine in March, though Poland’s MiG-29s have been fitted with other parts for NATO integration.
Despite those facts, Polish authorities, in what might qualify as the conflict's most irresponsible conjecture, proclaimed that the strike was “most likely” caused by a Russian missile. Poland suggested it might invoke Article 4 of the NATO alliance’s charter, which stipulates that NATO members “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” The goal of that consultation process is to determine whether Article 5 of the charter should be invoked for the country’s defense if the threat materializes.
Poland has been restrained in its approach to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine at times. For example, it rejected the aforementioned jet transfer program proposed by the Biden administration. But Poland’s historical relationship with Russia has certainly contributed to the escalatory rhetoric coming from Polish politicians and officials, and Poland has been hyperactive in the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations to punish the Russians for their incursion into Ukrainian territory.
In last week’s missile explosion, however, Polish President Andrzej Duda was more uncertain than the nation's foreign ministry and other top officials. “It was most likely a Russian-made missile,” Duda said, “but this is all still under investigation at the moment."
“We do not have any conclusive evidence at the moment as to who launched this missile,” he added.
Despite all the unknowns, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was quick to seize on the attack in an effort to solicit more support for Ukraine’s war against the Russians. "Russian missiles hit Poland, the territory of our friendly country. People died," Zelensky said in a video address after the explosion.
"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," Zelensky said, pushing for an invocation of NATO’s Article 5.
The potential that this conflict might spiral further out of control, turning into World War III or nuclear war, didn’t seem to phase Zelensky. In his mind, the allegedly Russian missile falling on Polish territory confirmed that Russia was committed to the full conquest of Eastern and Central Europe and reestablishing the Soviet empire. "Today happened what we were warning about for a long time: We told that terror is not confined to our state borders," Zelensky proclaimed.
The explosion sent Western leaders scrambling; many of them were in Bali for the Group of Twenty summit at the time, and they held an emergency meeting of NATO allies.
After the meeting, President Biden was asked if the missile was of Russian origin. “There is preliminary information that contests that. I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate. But it is unlikely, in the minds of the trajectory, that it was fired from Russia,” Biden said, though he did not elaborate on where the missile might have come from.
But Biden’s silence said what needed to be said. Typically, when only two countries are firing missiles at one another, and it seems likely that one of the two countries is not responsible, the other one probably is.
That turned out to be the case, as Poland later confirmed the missile that killed two in Poland was a Ukrainian S-300 air-defense missile. But despite the fact that a wayward Ukrainian missile had killed two citizens within the borders of one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters, NATO and even Poland gave no indication of reconsidering their apparently unlimited support for the Ukrainian cause.
NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg bent over backwards to excuse the incident. “Let me be clear: This is not Ukraine’s fault,” he claimed. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.” Duda also provided cover for the Ukrainians, calling the deaths of two Poles an “unfortunate accident.”
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The latest effort to run cover for the Ukrainians by the West has sent a powerful message to its beneficiary: not only is there nothing Zelensky and Ukraine could say to make the West reconsider its support for Ukraine, there is nothing Ukraine could do to lose its support, absent deciding to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict on their own accord.
And so Zelensky went on fanning the flames of war, denying that the rocket was of Ukrainian origin. "I have no doubt that it was not our rocket," Zelensky told members of the media on Wednesday evening, adding that he “believe[s] that it was a Russian missile based on the credibility of the reports of the [Ukrainian] military.” The Ukrainian president then cast doubt on the ultimate assessment of Polish authorities, even though they initially suspected that the rocket came from Russia. "Can we not say the final conclusions? Do we have the right to be in the investigation team? Of course."
Money, arms—what doesn’t Zelensky claim Ukraine has a right to at this point?