effect of single missile

expert approach Last week, an explosion in the eastern Polish village of Przemysl killed two people and raised concerns about how quickly the war in Ukraine could turn into a global conflict.
Cipher Brief compiled a tick-talk of what happened, detailing how a missile brought into precise focus the risks that are really playing out in Ukraine.


  • Polish radio ZET reported that two stray missiles caused the explosion.
  • The Associated Press cited a senior US intelligence official as saying that Russian missiles had hit Poland.
  • The Pentagon initially said it could not confirm reports that Russian missiles had landed in Polish territory.
  • The Russian Defense Ministry denied the reports, calling the allegations “a deliberate provocation with the aim of escalating the situation.” It added that Russia did not hit targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border and that debris found at the blast site “had nothing to do with Russian weapons.”
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later said, without providing evidence, that Russian missiles targeted Poland. He called the attack on “our friendly country’s territory” an “attack on collective security” and said it marked a “significant escalation” in the conflict with Russia.
  • In response to the blasts, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Marawiecki held an emergency Security Council meeting. The Polish government also increased military preparedness.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke with President Joe Biden about the bombings. The White House said Biden reiterated to Duda that the US has a “firm commitment to NATO”.
  • Duda also discussed the incident with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said it was important to find out all the facts behind the cause of the explosion.
  • A spokesman for the Polish government said that Poland is considering whether it will call on NATO for discussions under Article 4, which states that an alliance member can call for consultations when it believes that Its “territorial integrity, political independence or security” is in danger.

“If this was an accident, the instinct in Warsaw and Washington would be one of caution and restraint, with Article 4 discussions indicating not to screw the Russians again,” cipher brief expert and former CIA acting director John McLaughlin told us. told.

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John McLaughlinFormer Acting Director of the CIA

“If this was a deliberate provocation, and we will soon almost certainly know, then the alliance will be provoked and it will have to respond in some way. The default impulse is probably to avoid falling into a tit-for-tat between NATO and Russia. But we may relax some of the warnings we’ve given to the Ukrainians about not hitting certain Russian targets or other redlines.

The incident sparked alarm and calls for NATO territory defense throughout Central and Eastern Europe, focusing on the question of how quickly NATO would be ready to launch a response and what that response might look like.

  • Latvia appeared to explicitly blame Russia for the blasts. Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pubriks Tweeted, “The criminal Russian regime fired missiles that not only targeted Ukrainian citizens but also landed on NATO territory in Poland.”
  • Estonia expressed solidarity with Poland as well as a willingness to “protect every inch of NATO territory”, according to a tweet Estonian Foreign Ministry, However, Estonia did not explicitly blame Russia for the blasts.
  • Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda also expressed solidarity with Poland and called for defending “every inch of NATO territory”, according to a tweet. He added that “the cause of the explosions is not yet known,” but added that they occurred when Russia launched missile strikes in Ukraine.
  • Hungary convened a Defense Council meeting to discuss the blasts, as well as the disruption of the flow of oil through the Druzhba pipeline.

Cipher brief expert and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral Jim Stavridis (retd) warned, “We don’t know enough about the strike yet.”

Admiral James Stavridis (retd)Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO

“But assuming it was an errant missile from Russia, it provides a strong motivation to strengthen air defense, at least on the NATO-Ukraine border. It could also lead to a US backfilling with F-16s, and it could lead to serious discussions about imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine manned by NATO fighters.

the morning after

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

  • Polish President Andrzej Duda then appeared to back away from fully condemning Russia, saying there was no conclusive evidence as to who fired the missiles and that investigations were ongoing. He said the blast appeared to be a “one-off” incident. He also said Poland was likely to seek consultations under Article 4 at a North Atlantic Council meeting planned for Wednesday.
  • President Joe Biden called an emergency meeting of NATO and G7 leaders gathered in Bali for the G20 summit to discuss the missile blast. He told reporters that, according to “preliminary information”, he thought “it is unlikely” the missile was fired from Russia because of its trajectory, but added that until the Polish investigation was complete, he would Will not draw any conclusions.
  • Three US officials told The Associated Press that preliminary findings suggest the missile that landed in Poland was fired by Ukrainian forces in an attempt to intercept an incoming Russian missile.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda says the explosion was “very likely” an “unfortunate accident” caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile rather than a “deliberate attack”. He said the missile was “most likely” Russian-made, but there is no current evidence that the Russian military fired it.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Duda’s conclusion, though he stressed that “it is not Ukraine’s fault” and that “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”

sir alex youngerFormer Chief, MI6

Cipher brief expert and former chief, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6 Sir Alex Younger told us, “It is, in fact, a warning about the potential for escalation.” “But I am confident that Putin understands that a deliberate escalation is not in his interests. I would add that even if it was a Ukrainian air defense missile, the blame still lies firmly with Russia.

What did we learn?

Among other things, we learned how a single missile could come dangerously close to escalating an already 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 about responding if the missile was indeed fired by Russia. While the lessons from this one incident are worth heeding, so is the bigger picture.

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“In 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia, the West’s response was inadequate. Russia occupied 20% of the country of Georgia,” cipher brief expert and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Phil Breedlove (ret.) told us.

General Phil Breedlove (retd)Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO

“The Western world rewarded Russia’s bad behavior. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and took 11 or 12% of Ukrainian territory. Moscow threatened to start world war 3 or blow up our house with their nuclear weapons. Once again, the West caved in and let them hang on to a large part of Ukraine. Other times, we rewarded the bad behavior. It shouldn’t surprise us that we’re back for the third time now. Russia has annexed another large part of Ukraine. And when the West began to respond, Russia huffed and puffed and threatened World War III and bombing our home with nuclear weapons. And they fully expect us to surrender for the third time. We are at decision point in the West, are we going to reward bad behavior for the third time? The West and the Western world have to decide. Mr Putin is gasping and he is gasping and he is threatening to blow up our house and we need to decide how we are going to respond. Here’s what I know for sure: If we surrender and allow Russia to annex more Ukrainian territory, we’ll be back here again in 2025 and 2028 and 2031 and 2033. It is time for us to step up.

Cipher Brief writer and researcher Ethan Masucol contributed to this piece

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