Damage after a pair of Russian missiles struck inside Polish territory on Nov. 15, 2022. Photo by Radio Zet via Twitter.
At least one missile struck inside the territory of Poland on Tuesday, Nov. 15, killing two civilians. This marks the first time since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine that long-range weapons have hit a NATO member.
According to Polish news reports, the missile struck a grain drying area in Przewodów, Poland, on the border with Ukraine. The Associated Press reported that an unnamed senior US intelligence official confirmed the strike, as well as the two civilian deaths.
Polish authorities said Wednesday morning that the missile that landed in Poland was likely an air defense missile fired by Ukrainians to intercept a wave of Russian missiles. The impact sites of those Russian missiles was unclear.
The incident appears to be part of a widespread assault Tuesday in which Russia launched a barrage of some 90 missiles and a number of exploding drones at targets across Ukraine, including a residential district in the capital city of Kyiv. Ukrainian air defenses shot down 73 missiles, according to Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's minister of defense.
On Tuesday, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki convened the Committee of the Council of Ministers for National Security and Defense Affairs, presumably to hash out the country’s response — potential options include the invocation of NATO's Article V, the Western alliance's collective defense protocol.
"The risk of Russian missile strikes on border areas of eastern flank NATO member states has been high since March, when Russia began strikes on the Ukrainian military assets near Yavoriv in western Ukraine," Alex Kokcharov, a UK-based security risk analyst for S&P Global Market Intelligence, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
"This risk has been around for a while due to the fact that Russia has conducted multiple missile strikes on Ukraine, including on border areas, and that some of the Russian missile strikes have been imprecise," Kokcharov said.
Poland shares a roughly 330-mile-long border with Ukraine. During nearly nine months of full-scale warfare since Feb. 24, the country has welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees. Poland also remains a prime staging ground for deliveries of Western military aid into Ukraine.
"Today, what we warned about a long time ago happened. Terror is not limited to our national borders," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday. "The longer Russia feels impunity, the more threats there will be to anyone within reach of Russian missiles."
Pieces of debris from intercepted Russian missiles have previously landed in Moldova, a country that neighbors Ukraine and is not a NATO member.
While it's still in the early hours, there are a number of possible explanations for how Ukrainian or Russian missiles could have penetrated Polish territory. Przewodów's proximity to the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which Russian missiles have repeatedly targeted, led some analysts to suspect that Tuesday's pair of missiles may have strayed off target. Also, Ukrainian air defense systems may have struck Russian missiles, sending debris over the border. However, videos from the site appear to show a massive impact crater, suggesting an explosion larger than that of falling debris.
"It’s not clear what exactly happened today — [whether] missiles or debris from intercepted missiles hit Polish territory," Kokcharov said. "It’s more likely an accident, and not intentional. Yet, it presents Russia with an opportunity to test responses by Poland and NATO, and thus to test the Western red lines in terms of Russian military escalation."
According to NATO's charter, an attack against one member state is considered an attack on the entire alliance. It remains unclear whether Warsaw will call for the invocation of Article V, NATO's collective defense provision. NATO could also invoke Article IV, which, rather than military action, calls for "consultation among member countries" after "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”
Even so, Tuesday's strike raises the specter of a so-called Franz Ferdinand scenario — a single event that could precipitate a domino chain of events ultimately leading to a wider war. According to news reports, Tuesday's missile strikes in Poland also spurred Hungary, another NATO member that borders Ukraine, to convene its Defense Council.
Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a Twitter statement Tuesday, reading: "Latest news from Poland is most concerning. We are consulting closely with Poland and other Allies. Estonia is ready to defend every inch of NATO territory. We’re in full solidarity with our close ally Poland.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that authorities believe the missile that struck Polish territory was launched by Ukrainian forces in an attempt to intercept incoming Russian missiles.