Murphy’s first law says that if something can go wrong, it will. This is exactly what happened last night in Przewodów, a village in Poland on the border with Ukraine. Where two missiles, possibly Russian but not yet proven, fell, hitting a grain processing plant and killing two people.
The latest live news on the missiles in Poland
The explosion coincided with one of the most massive attacks by the Russian army since the start of the war against Ukraine. Which was hit by more than a hundred missiles in a single day, mainly aimed at destroying the country’s power grid.
Poland immediately convened its National Security and Defence Council in the night. The three Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – immediately expressed solidarity with Warsaw and pointed the finger at Moscow.
The US government reacted cautiously. Saying it wanted to verify all information: from the G20, taking place in these days in Indonesia, Biden says it is unlikely that the Russian-made missiles that killed two people in Poland were fired by Russia.
Missiles in Poland: the involvement of NATO
But the White House also made it clear that the US would be ready to ‘defend every inch of NATO territory’. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stresses that ‘it is possible that this was a technical error’.
While from Moscow, the Foreign and Defence Ministries spoke of a ‘provocation to make the situation more tense’. Specifying that ‘no targets in the vicinity of the Polish-Ukrainian border were hit by Russian weapons’.
The missiles that fell are S-300s, which do not shine in terms of accuracy and are in the possession of both the Russians and the Ukrainians. Whether they were fired by the former, as seems more likely, or by Ukrainian troops to neutralise approaching enemy ones, it was most likely a mistake.
For months now, the risk of a situation getting out of hand has been denounced. The danger of an unintentional incident triggering a military spiral widening the conflict to involve a NATO country.
Among the possibilities cited were that of a nuclear power plant hit by mistake, a convoy of arms supplies to Kiev bombed on the border with Poland, or an off-course missile falling on the territory of Poland, which is indeed a member of the NATO Alliance.
Missiles in Poland, a NATO country. Can the conflict escalate?
And it was these fears that prompted the high military commands of Russia and the United States to reopen a channel of communication in recent months, aimed at averting this eventuality. The memory of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when the US and USSR danced on the edge of the nuclear abyss before taking a step back and calling it quits, is still alive and serves as a warning. Now the accident has happened. And it is good to keep a cool head, trying to ascertain every circumstance precisely.
What can happen is unclear. Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, immediately accused Moscow and spoke of an ‘attack on collective security’. As if to evoke the mechanism of Article 5 of the Atlantic Pact Treaty. Which defines an attack on one of the member countries as an attack on the entire alliance. But before we have firm evidence, NATO would do well to move with caution.
In fact, according to experts, in the event that there is no certainty that an attack was deliberate or the result of error, there is another procedure. That provided for in Article 4. According to which a country that feels threatened (in this case Poland) asks for immediate consultations within the Atlantic Council.
Warsaw is also showing the necessary caution: government spokesman Piotr Müller warned against spreading unsubstantiated information.