It Was a Ukrainian Missile That Struck Poland, But It Was Still Russia’s Fault: Russia is to blame for the missile that strayed off course and killed two people in Poland on Tuesday evening, even if it wasn’t the Kremlin’s forces that fired it, said the head of NATO. Initial reports suggested that the missile was one of the more than 100 launched at targets throughout Ukraine, the most significant number fired at Ukrainian urban centers and civilian infrastructure in more than a month.
The Ukraine War Comes to Poland
“This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
The blast raised a global alarm that the conflict could spill into neighboring countries, even as Moscow denied it was one of its missiles that landed within Poland.
S-300 Hits Poland?
Speaking to reporters from the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Bali, Indonesia, U.S. President Joe Biden – who had just emerged from an emergency meeting with top allies – said the missile blast was most likely caused by a Ukrainian air-defense system. Multiple news outlets have suggested it was an S-300, a surface-to-air missile system that was originally developed by the Soviet Union. Both Moscow and Kyiv have employed the S-300 during the current conflict.
It is considered equivalent to the U.S. Patriot air-and-missile system. The S-300, which entered service in 1979, has several elements that include a long-range surveillance radar, engagement radar, and launch vehicles. A command vehicle can control an entire S-300 battery. The system has been widely used to shoot down Russia’s missiles and aircraft, but an ongoing concern is that one of the anti-missile missiles could stray off course – which apparently is what occurred on Tuesday.
Despite that fact, NATO’s top official said that Moscow, not Kyiv was ultimately to blame – as Russia had invaded Ukraine, and also launched the attack that triggered the air defenses on Tuesday.
Poland has taken a more reserved stance.
“From the information that we and our allies have, it was an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said. “It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense.”
Ukraine Blamed Russia
A concern for some in the west is that Kyiv has failed to take responsibility for the blast, and instead attempted to rush to judgment to blame Moscow. Such an incident, followed by Kyiv’s “maximalist language” could result in “Ukraine fatigue” among even its staunchest supporters.
Yet, as the BBC reported, mistakes do happen in wartime, and cities such as neutral Dublin were accidentally bombed during World War II by Nazi Germany, while the Allies had inadvertently bombed targets in neutral Switzerland.
In the case of Tuesday’s incident, it is likely the result of the system’s age – so it is almost surprising that a missile or rocket hasn’t veered off course sooner.
It is unlikely that this incident will have any severe impact on the support for Ukraine from NATO members, including Poland, but, likely, Kyiv cannot afford to rush to blame Moscow for what it didn’t do. The Kremlin has enough blood on its hands already.
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.