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Attack, communication, rift: The rocket impact in Poland was followed by an irritating information policy

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The missile strike that killed two Poles near the Ukrainian border on November 15 proved to be a test not so much of defense policy as of the information policy of Poland, Ukraine and NATO. And only the Americans passed it.

The European allies and Ukraine stumbled, revealing a shocking lack of preparedness for a scenario that could have been predicted almost from the start of the war.

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Poland is the largest country on NATO’s eastern flank and serves as the main logistical center for a war that is affecting almost the entire world. West determination and unity are critical to defending Ukraine and defeating Russia, which may decide the fate of the world for decades to come.

However, last Tuesday’s blast in Poland caught everyone but the United States by surprise, setting off an amazing chain of events fueled by amazing bungling.

The Poles learned about the rocket hit, which took place at 3:40 p.m., just before 8 p.m. from the Associated Press news agency. The Polish government remained silent until after midnight, when the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the incident was a “Russian-made missile” and demanding an explanation from the Russian ambassador.

The government put some military units on combat readiness. When Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda went public, they did not explain where the missile came from, fueling widespread suspicion that it was an attack (intended or unintended) by Russia. Many of the three million Ukrainians living in Poland, 85 percent of whom are women and children, had to think that the war they were fleeing would soon catch up with them.

Through his communication, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki fueled the suspicion that it was a Russian missile.
© Photo: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko

When the Poles received new information, it came from the Americans. At 4:00 a.m. Polish time, President Joe Biden said the missile was likely launched by Ukrainian anti-aircraft forces in the face of a Russian barrage. Duda did not mention this until the afternoon of November 16, when the public was first assured that “Poland was not the target of a Russian attack.”

Many country leaders repeated the formula of Russian aggression

Meanwhile, confusion grew among Poland’s European NATO allies. Some had already blamed Russia, and some heads of government called extraordinary government meetings, including Hungary.

Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks tweeted that the missile was “Russian,” a statement he repeated to CNN. Jana Cernochová, the Czech Republic’s defense minister, described the incident as an “unnecessary provocation” by Russia. Bulgaria’s President described the explosion as “unacceptable”.

NATO must respond accordingly.

Gitanas Nauseda, President of Lithuania

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said: “Tuesday’s explosions in Poland mark a new phase in Russia’s war against Ukraine. NATO must respond accordingly,” and called on NATO to deploy more missile defense systems on NATO’s eastern flank.

The impression that Russia actually attacked Poland was initially reinforced by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Immediately after the first American reports of the blast, the Russians used their usual formula, claiming a Western provocation.

I have no doubt it wasn’t our rocket.

Volodymyr Selenksky, President of Ukraine

In contrast, Western reactions, however misguided, were right when it came to who was solely responsible for the missile attack. As NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg emphasized, “Ukraine has the right to defend itself against Russia’s illegal war of aggression.”

But then there was an unexpected rift between the NATO leadership and Ukraine. “I have no doubt that it wasn’t our missile,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, adding that Ukraine has evidence and wants access to the investigation. Surprised by this, Poland and its NATO allies decided not to comment on Zelenskiy’s statement. Obviously they were waiting for a more coherent message.

The Ukrainian attitude offends the countries

Zelenskyy’s rigor may also reinforce the impression among some Western leaders that the Ukrainian administration is acting arrogantly while Europe not only pays for arms and humanitarian aid, but also suffers from record inflation. In Poland it is almost 20 percent.

After the recent Russian rocket fire, the EU should tighten the ninth set of sanctions against Russia, which Hungary’s pro-Russian government under Prime Minister Victor Orbán predictably opposes.

Is Victor Orbán impressed by the rocket incident?
Is Victor Orbán impressed by the rocket incident?
© REUTERS / LISI NIESNER

If Hungary had been in Poland’s role as the main route for arms, energy, food and other supplies to Ukraine, Russia would almost certainly have had the upper hand long ago. But the blast in Poland could make Hungary more docile on the issue.

Another obvious consequence is the strengthening of NATO’s air defenses on its eastern flank. Warsaw, the Polish capital, has only one Soviet-era system built in the 1960s and 1970s. Poland has acquired eight Patriot anti-missile batteries from the United States, but they will not arrive for another ten years, and the two already in place will not be operational until next year at the earliest.

The routes through which US arms are transported to Ukraine and the transmission line connecting Ukraine to the EU energy system (which, by the way, runs very close to the site of the recent explosion) are within range of Russian missiles, falling on the other side of NATO’s eastern border. The recent explosion on Polish territory was an accident, the next one may not be.

Zelenskyy knows this, which is why he said two days after the incident that he wasn’t entirely sure about the origin of the missile that fell in eastern Poland. Its origin may not have been Russia, but the explosion certainly emanated from there.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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