One of the most persistent fears about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has been the potential for the war to ramp up dramatically in scope.
Those fears are legitimate, especially given the bellicose rhetoric and brinkmanship emanating from the Kremlin. And although concerns about nuclear escalation have dominated the headlines, the surest path to a bigger war would be an attack – inadvertent or otherwise – on a NATO state. If NATO members were drawn in, that would bring about what Kremlin propagandists have been spruiking for months: an existential contest between Russia and the European West.
Now a large explosion has killed two people in the Polish village of Przewodów, close to the Ukrainian border. It occurred during a massive Russian bombardment, with around 100 missiles fired at civilian and infrastructure targets across Ukraine.
Is this the tipping point that dramatically changes the contours of the war?
For the moment, that seems unlikely. But it is a significant crisis with the potential to spiral further, and it will require careful management to avert that.
Does This Mean the War Is Widening?
I spoke with President Andrzej Duda of Poland to express my deep condolences for the loss of life in Eastern Poland and offer our full support for Poland’s investigation of the explosion.
We will remain in close touch to determine appropriate next steps as it proceeds. pic.twitter.com/m6OSwcHKtD
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 16, 2022
That an attack on a NATO country might not automatically trigger a collective response by the alliance seems to run contrary to popular wisdom. After all, doesn’t Article 5 of the NATO Treaty clearly state that an attack against one member is an attack against all of them?
It was certainly the case that Article 5 was invoked after the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. So what’s different here?
For one thing, details about the explosion are still sketchy. It could have been a Russian missile (or missiles) that wandered off-target. It also could have been a Russian strike, perhaps intended for power generation stations near the west Ukrainian city of Lviv, that was knocked off course by Ukrainian air defences.
Indeed, there is some preliminary evidence that missile fragments bear close resemblance to the Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air systems used by Ukraine to knock down incoming cruise missiles and enemy …read more