Reports of Missile Blast Alarm NATO

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Uncertainty and panic have gripped NATO countries after a missile or debris from one reportedly hit Polish territory and sparked an explosion on Tuesday, killing two people and stirring fears of the war’s potential expansion outside of Ukraine.

In the blast’s aftermath, contradictory reports sparked a diplomatic frenzy as alarmed NATO leaders raced to determine what had happened. But as of Tuesday night, it remained unclear whether Poland—a NATO member—had been hit by a missile or debris from one, who fired it, and whether the strike was intentional.

Poland said it was likely struck by a Russian-made missile and is currently weighing invoking NATO’s Article 4 provision, meaning it would consult with other NATO countries over security or territorial-related concerns. Russia, for its part, has denied any connection with the blast, dismissing Polish reporting as a “deliberate provocation in order to escalate the situation.”

But even if the missile itself was Russian-made, it wasn’t immediately obvious who launched it or where it came from. Some recent reports suggest it may have been fired by Ukrainian air defense units to intercept a Russian missile, according to the Financial Times. U.S. President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” that the projectile was fired from Russia, given its launch trajectory, and publicly backed Warsaw’s investigation.

“I’m going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened,” Biden said. “Then we’re going to figure out our next step.”

Until more information is known, experts have urged caution.

When it comes to “the larger speculation of whether this is a Russian attack, whether this is a major escalation, then you have to hold your breath and say, ‘Wait a minute, let’s get the facts first,’” Daniel Fried, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and former U.S. ambassador to Poland, told Foreign Policy on Tuesday.

If intelligence agencies were to determine that the reported missile strike was a deliberate Russian attack on Polish territory, it could potentially set off NATO’s Article 5 collective defense commitment, as FP’s Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch, and Amy Mackinnon report. So far, however, NATO leaders have largely avoided blaming Russia.

“Article 5 is not automatic,” Jim Townsend, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO policy, told them. “Even if Poland comes and says, ‘we’ve been attacked,’ it’s up to the [North Atlantic Council] to decide whether that is true or not.”

Confusion surrounding the missile crossing into Poland came as Moscow unleashed a spate of airstrikes across Ukraine on Tuesday, following the liberation of the strategic city of Kherson. The onslaught of missiles left nearly 10 million people facing power outages, Kyiv said, and hit some residential buildings.

Foreign Policy

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