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The Impact of a Single Missile

Aerial Panoramic of Skaneateles Lake and Village

EXPERT PERSPECTIVE — An explosion last week, in the eastern Polish village of Przewodow, killed two people and created heightened snooping well-nigh just how quickly the war in Ukraine could escalate into a global conflict.
The Cipher Brief compiled a tic-toc of what happened, telling the story of how a single missile brought into sharp focus, the risks that are truly at play in Ukraine.


  • Polish Radio ZET reported that two stray missiles caused the blast.
  • The Associated Press cited a senior US intelligence official saying Russian missiles had crossed into Poland.
  • The Pentagon initially said it could not personize reports that Russian missiles had landed in Polish territory.
  • The Russian Defense Ministry denied the reports, calling the allegations “a deliberate provocation aimed at escalating the situation.” It widow that Russia did not hit targets near the Ukrainian-Polish verge and that trash found at the site of the blasts had “nothing to do with Russian weapons.”
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said, without providing evidence, that Russian missiles hit Poland. He tabbed the wade on “the territory of our friendly country” an “attack on joint security” and said it marked a “significant escalation” in the mismatch with Russia.
  • In response to the blasts, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Marawiecki held an emergency Security Council meeting. The Polish government moreover raised military readiness.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke with President Joe Biden well-nigh the blasts. The White House said Biden reiterated to Duda that the US has an “ironclad transferral to NATO.”
  • Duda moreover discussed the incident with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said it was important to find all the facts overdue the causes of the explosion.
  • A Polish government spokesman said Poland is considering whether it will call NATO for discussions under Article 4, which states that an syndication member can undeniability for consultations when it feels its “territorial integrity, political independence or security” are at risk.

“If this was an accident, the instinct in Warsaw and Washington will be circumspection and restraint, with Article 4 discussions signaling the Russians not to screw up again,” Cipher Brief Expert and former Acting Director of CIA John McLaughlin told us.

John McLaughlin, Former CIA Acting Director

“If this was a deliberate provocation, and we will scrutinizingly certainly know surpassing long, then the Syndication will be provoked and will have to respond in some way. The default impulse will probably be to stave getting into a tit-for-tat between NATO and Russia. But we might relax some of the cautions we’ve given the Ukrainians well-nigh not hitting unrepealable Russian targets or other redlines.”

The incident sparked watchtower and calls for the defense of NATO territory wideness inside and eastern Europe, putting squarely into focus the question of just how quickly NATO would be ready to launch a response and what that response might squint like.

  • Latvia appeared to explicitly snivel Russia of causing the blasts. Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks tweeted, “Criminal Russian regime fired missiles which targeted not only Ukrainian civilians but moreover landed on NATO territory in Poland.”
  • Estonia expressed solidarity with Poland as well as its willingness to “defend every inch of NATO territory,” equal to a tweet from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, Estonia did not explicitly vituperation Russia for the blasts.
  • Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda likewise expressed solidarity with Poland and tabbed for “every inch of NATO territory” to be defended, equal to a tweet. He said “the rationalization of the explosions is not yet known,” but widow that they happened as Russia launched missile strikes in Ukraine.
  • Hungary convened a defense steering meeting to discuss the blasts, as well as disruptions to oil flows through the Druzhba pipeline.

“We don’t know unbearable yet well-nigh the strike,” cautioned Cipher Brief Expert and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral Jim Stavridis (Ret.).

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander

“But thesping it was an errant missile from Russia, this provides a strong motivation to reinforce air defense withal the NATO-Ukraine verge at a minimum. It could moreover rationalization NATO to provide MIG-29 watercraft to the Ukrainians from Poland, with US backfilling with F-16s. And it may rationalization a serious discussion well-nigh putting a no-fly zone up over Ukraine, manned by NATO fighters.”

The Morning After

The Polish Foreign Ministry released a statement early Wednesday saying that a Russian-made missile caused an explosion in eastern Poland that killed two people. The ministry said it summoned the Russian producer and “demanded firsthand detailed explanations” for the blasts.

  • Polish President Andrzej Duda then appeared to step when from a full-throated condemnation of Russia, saying there is no conclusive vestige showing who fired the missiles and that investigations are ongoing. He widow that the explosion appeared to be a “one-off” incident. He moreover said it is likely Poland will ask for consultations under Article 4 at a planned North Atlantic Steering meeting on Wednesday.
  • President Joe Biden convened an emergency meeting of NATO and G7 leaders gathered in Bali for a G20 summit to discuss the missile blast. He told reporters that, equal to “preliminary information,” he thinks “it is unlikely” the missile was fired from Russia due to its trajectory, but said he would not make any conclusions until the Polish investigation is completed.
  • Three US officials tell The Associated Press that preliminary findings suggest that the missile that landed in Poland was fired by Ukrainian forces in an struggle to intercept an incoming Russian missile.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda says the explosion was “very likely” an “unfortunate accident” caused by an Ukrainian air defense missile, rather than any “intentional attack.” He widow that the missile was “most likely” Russian-made, but that there is no current vestige that Russian forces fired it.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Duda’s conclusion, though he emphasized that “this is not Ukraine’s fault” and that “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war versus Ukraine.”

Sir Alex Younger, Former Chief, MI6

“It is, literally, a warning shot well-nigh the possibility of escalation,” Cipher Brief Expert and former Chief, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6 Sir Alex Younger told us. “But I’m confident that Putin understands that deliberate escalation is very much not in his interest. I’d add that plane if it was a Ukrainian air defence missile, the vituperation still lies firmly with Russia.”

What Did We Learn?

Among other things, we learned how dangerously tropical a single missile can come to escalating an once tense situation to a higher level of global conflict. We learned how quickly information is shared and we saw how NATO countries were at least thinking well-nigh responding, if the missile had in fact, been fired by Russia. While the lessons from this single incident are worth noting, so too is the worthier picture.

“In 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, the response of the West was inadequate. Russia got to hold on to 20% of the nation of Georgia,” Cipher Brief Expert and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Phil Breedlove (Ret.) told us.

General Phil Breedlove (Ret.), Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander

“The western world rewarded Russia’s bad behavior. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and took 11 or 12% of Ukrainian territory. Moscow threatened to huff and puff and wrack-up our house lanugo with World War III or their nukes. Once again, the west capitulated and unliable them to hang on to a big permafrost of Ukraine. For the second time, we rewarded bad behavior. We shouldn’t be surprised that we’re when now for a third time. Russia has seized flipside big part of Ukraine. And when the west starts to respond, Russia has huffed and puffed and threatened to wrack-up our house lanugo with World War III and nukes. And they fully expect us to capitulate a third time. We in the West are at a point of decision, are we going to, for the third time, reward bad behavior? The West and the Western world have a visualization to make. Mr. Putin is huffing and he’s puffing and he’s threatening to wrack-up our house lanugo and we need to decide how we’re going to respond. Here’s what I know for sure: If we capitulate and indulge Russia to hold onto plane increasingly Ukrainian territory, we’ll be when here then in 2025 and 2028 and 2031 and 2033. It’s time for us to step up.”

Cipher Brief Writer and Researcher Ethan Masucol unsalaried to this piece

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