This is the dangerous moment that has been talked about since Russian and NATO warships and aircraft began rendezvous in the Baltic and Black Seas, and Russian and American military forces in Syria. As a result of Russian shelling, a target in a NATO country was hit.
After several hours of anxious waiting , it turned out that the rocket that exploded in the Polish Przewoduv was fired by Ukrainian air defense in response to Russian shelling, which partially defused the situation. But it is clear that Soviet-made missiles did not kill Polish citizens before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, and especially before it decided to shift the fighting from the front, where the Russian army is not doing very well, to the rear. Not to mention specifically on November 15, when Moscow tried to avenge the loss of Kherson with the largest shelling of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure since the beginning of the war.
The death of civilians from a NATO country on the territory of a NATO country as a result of Russian shelling is a rather unprecedented situation that could become one of the turning points in this war, as was the downing of a Malaysian Boeing with Dutch and other Western passengers in 2014.
The explosion on the territory of Poland, no matter how indirect and unintentional it may be, looks ominous against the backdrop of the endless demands of the supporters of the “real war” – from guests in television studios to the deputy chairman of the Security Council Medvedev (“it will not be possible to sit out in warm apartments”) – to strike for intimidation on the territory of one of the NATO countries. Among the first targets of such threats – including nuclear ones – was Poland as Ukraine’s most fervent supporter and the main logistics center for Western arms supplies.
And just like that, it almost happened. Fortunately, thanks to this, the “almost” Polish government is not yet asking the allies to start the procedures prescribed by the fifth article of the NATO charter – only a few politicians are talking about this. But in any case, what happened will require a convincing demonstration of solidarity and increased freedom of action for those countries that are in close proximity to the theater of operations.
The fact that the Russian Ministry of Defense calls the incident a “deliberate provocation” and claims that it did not conduct shelling near the Polish border will clearly not be a serious obstacle to these demands. From February to September, the Russian Ministry of Defense, with the full support of state journalists and volunteers of the information war, assured that it hit only military targets and in no case touches civilian infrastructure. Now, to the approving exclamations of the same crowd, it reports about the destroyed thermal power plants.
There is no way to convince outside observers that moving from denying strikes near the Polish border to approving strikes against Poland itself will not go the same way. Moreover, a kind of public demand for them has already been formed.
The United States in this situation faces a difficult choice. Washington still does not want to move on to a direct military clash between NATO and Russia and understands that yesterday’s hit on Polish territory was indirect and unintentional. However, this unintentionality follows the intention, repeatedly expressed in the form of threats, and therefore is not quite such. Yes, and the territory of a NATO country did not suffer during exercises or war games, but during real hostilities.
The absence of any reaction to the demand of an ally who has suffered in a situation of war threatens with a loss of authority. The new and small NATO countries on the eastern flank already suspect the United States that they are really ready to defend only themselves, well, maybe a couple of close and important countries for themselves, and smaller and newer allies as a residual. We’ll have to somehow show that this is not the case.
Moreover, even an accidental and indirect defeat of NATO territory will inevitably expand the boundaries of what is possible and permissible for Moscow. In the future, she may try to take advantage of this and shove something else into the expanded boundaries. For example, move from denying an indirect and unplanned strike to denying a direct and planned one. And there, as in the case of Ukrainian thermal power plants, there is no need to deny it. The smooth acceptance of the unacceptable into the agenda is one of the dangers of such situations.
The most unacceptable thing for the US is still a direct clash of its armed forces with Russia. And they are unlikely to exchange this general unacceptability for a particular one. However, some important changes are possible.
First, there will be renewed talk of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Announcing it over the entire country is tantamount to this very clash, so the maximum we can talk about is the regions of Ukraine bordering NATO countries. Through existing channels (the same Naryshkin – Burns), Washington may try to convey the idea of the unacceptability of Russian actions in the western regions of Ukraine.
The consequence of the explosions on Polish territory could be the expansion of the military autonomy of Poland and other most active defenders of Ukraine. After all, now helping Ukraine for them turns into protecting themselves, and it is more difficult to restrain the self-defense of an ally than his help to others.
Since not all members of the alliance equally bear the risks associated with the current war and do not have the same determination, at least the less decisive ones should not prevent those who are under greater threat from acting independently. In this logic, a group of countries that are more proactive will gain more autonomy. The road is being opened for the gradual, piecemeal involvement of NATO in a military conflict with Russia.
Russian propagandists say that now Poland has its own Belgorod. This looks both like a threat (a continuation of the thought about “you won’t be able to sit out in warm apartments”) and as a reassurance. Since the beginning of the war, Russia as a whole has been reacting to strikes against villages and towns on the periphery of its own internationally recognized territory with rather restraint (too restrained for supporters of a “real war”).
However, the comparison with Belgorod, conceived for other purposes, involuntarily speaks of how the status of Poland, and hence other western neighbors of Ukraine, will change in this war. “Belgorod” – that is, the settlements of Belgorod and other regions adjacent to the Ukrainian border – are suffering as the territory of one of the parties to the interstate armed conflict. Now, according to the formula “their Belgorod”, this conflict has new participants and new territories.