A suspected Russian missile strike has killed two people in Poland, according to a senior US intelligence official quoted by the Associated Press. The projectiles hit the village of Przewodów, near the border with Ukraine, on Tuesday 15 November. If confirmed, it would be the first Russian strike on territory outside Ukraine and a significant development given Poland’s status as a member of the Nato alliance.
The Polish government called an emergency meeting of national security and defence ministers on Tuesday to discuss what prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s spokesman described as a “crisis situation”. The Polish military’s readiness level was also raised. Officials had released no further details about the incident at the time of writing.
As a Nato member, Poland is protected by the alliance’s principle of collective defence, enshrined in Article 5 of the founding treaty, which commits members to treat an attack on one as an attack against all the members of the alliance. Article 5 has only been invoked once in the alliance’s history, after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.
Yet there is no automatic process to trigger a Nato response and Poland’s government would first have to decide to invoke Article 5, a step it might not take if it determines that the attack was not deliberately targeted against its territory. The strike took place close to the Ukrainian border during a wave of coordinated attacks against the country’s power infrastructure in one of the heaviest aerial bombardments to date.
Poland could instead choose to invoke Article 4 — as it, along with a group of Eastern European and Baltic states, did at the start of the war in February — which requires Nato members to meet and reaffirm their commitment to collective defence. Even if Warsaw did decide to trigger Article 5, it would then be up to each Nato member to determine the appropriate response — and there is no obligation to use military force.
With world leaders currently meeting in Bali for the G20 summit, the attack will focus even greater attention on the war and calls by the US and its allies to impose greater pressure on Russia to end the fighting. The incident may also reignite concerns about the danger of the conflict developing beyond Ukraine’s borders and strengthen calls by countries such as China for an immediate ceasefire to be sought.