Apparent Russian missile strike in Poland is major escalation

An elderly man seen holding a Polish flag. The last day of
CZESTOCHOWA, POLAND – 2020/02/07: An elderly man seen holding a Polish flag. The last day of presidential campaign in Poland. People were waiting for the meeting with polish president Andrzej Duda, who also ran in the elections. (Photo by Wojciech Grabowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (Photo by Wojciech Grabowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Apparent Russian missile strike in Poland is major escalation

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This piece has been updated to reflect new information on this breaking story.

An apparent Russian missile strike on Polish territory represents a major escalation of the war in Ukraine. At least one Russian missile appears to have killed two Polish citizens when it struck a farm in the village of

Przewodow on Tuesday.

Two things stand out.

RUSSIAN MISSILE HITS POLAND, KILLING TWO: REPORT

First, Przewodow is approximately 42 miles from the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which again came under Russian missile fire on Tuesday. But 42 miles is an awfully long way off course for the accurate form of missiles Russia is predominantly using against Lviv. This area is approximately 100 miles from the nearest Russian launch areas in Belarus and more than 500 miles from Crimea. Images of the apparent impact crater in Przewodow also indicate a successful warhead detonation, suggesting that this incident was not the result of a Ukrainian air defense intercept that sent debris raining into Poland. An exception here would be that this incident was the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile failure which saw that missile detonated inside Poland.

Political context also matters.

Russian officials have escalated their warnings in recent months that arms convoys traveling through Poland into Ukraine would be targeted. Russia’s recent battlefield defeat around Kherson and its increasing reliance on attacks against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure have also fostered concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin is desperate to regain the narrative in Ukraine. These considerations will lead Polish officials to the early belief that the strike on its territory may have been deliberate and only thinly veiled as the mere result of a targeting failure. Polish and U.S. air defense sensors that monitor Russian air and missile activity will now be crucial in identifying this missile’s trajectory and thus supporting a broader assessment of Russian intent.

Poland is a NATO member state, and it can trigger the alliance’s Article 5 mutual defense commitment in the event of an attack on its territory. Reflecting his repeated commitment to “defend every inch” of NATO territory, President Joe Biden has deployed additional U.S. airborne infantry and other forces to Poland. If Poland believes it has been deliberately attacked, it would have cause to ask for and expect U.S. military support in targeting Russian missile forces. And while a triggering of Article 5 does not require NATO members to conduct military operations, that is the expectation.

Certainly, Poland’s status as an extremely close and reliable U.S. ally (Warsaw has met the NATO 2%-of-GDP defense spending target for many years) will lead Washington to view this incident as extremely serious.

We’ll have to wait for more from the Polish government.

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