Russia’s massive missile attack on Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure on Tuesday, November 15, has left millions of Ukrainians without electricity, heat, and water. But the attack has also had a direct impact on Moldova, Poland, and Hungary. Intentionally or not, Russia has just expanded the war westward. The move is pure idiocy.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu condemned the attack, both because of its impact on Ukraine and because it disconnected a power line that supplies her country with electricity, thereby leaving dozens of settlements without power.
A Russian missile also struck a Ukrainian power station near the Belarus border that provides electricity for a pump station. As a result, shipments of crude oil to Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe via the Druzhba pipeline were suspended. The situation was severe enough for Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to call a meeting of the Defense Council.
Orban was also concerned with another of Putin’s accomplishments: two Russian missiles also hit a Polish village near the Ukrainian border and killed two Poles. Faced with a “crisis situation,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki convened an urgent meeting with the Committee of the Council of Ministers for National Security and Defense Affairs.
The Moldovan and Hungarian cases are probably accidental, the product of yet another instance of Russia’s military incompetence and diplomatic indifference to countries it’s used to bossing around. Orban’s distress is especially ironic, and piquant, since he is notoriously pro-Russian and pro-Putin. Evidently, no bad deed goes unpunished, too.
The Polish case is more complicated. Although Russia denies intent, the problem with anything Russian officials and propagandists say is that it’s almost always a brazen lie. The Russians still insist that they’ve never targeted Ukrainian civilians; they still insist that Ukraine provoked the war, and they still insist that their casualties are minuscule—and not the 80,000-plus that Ukraine claims—and that everything is going according to plan. In fact, with such a record of mendacity, it’s safer to assume that the exact opposite of Russian statements is always the truth.
But let’s explore the possible rationales behind the two possibilities: unintentional bombing vs. intentional. Given the inaccuracy of Russian missiles and the incompetence of their military, it’s surely possible that the missiles were supposed to strike, say, Lviv but then overshot and hit Poland. That, too, would qualify as criminal negligence, but so be it. And then there’s the alternative. Given Russia’s ancient enmity toward Poland, its historical record of massacring Poles at every available opportunity, the recent unhinged denunciations of Poland by Russian policymakers and propagandists. Furthermore, the fact that Western weapons supplies to Ukraine go through Poland—indeed, probably very near to where the missiles hit—and that Poland has been Ukraine’s champion in the war, it makes far more sense to conclude that Putin and his comrades saw this as an excellent opportunity to fire a shot across Poland’s bow and signal to NATO that it means business.
One of Russia’s leading propagandists, Margarita Simonyan, lent support to the latter interpretation, writing on her Telegram site: “And so in Poland there’s appeared its own Belgorod province. So what did you expect?” Belgorod province is just across the border from eastern Ukraine and its oil and gas depots have been frequent targets of Ukrainian attacks. Simonyan’s comment may be wishful thinking, or, far more likely, she’s confirming the Kremlin’s intentional targeting.
In any case, the missile attacks and their consequences are strategically stupid. Broadening a war that Russia is already losing makes no sense. Alienating Orban makes no sense. Galvanizing the United States and its NATO allies makes even less sense. But then again, invading Ukraine made no sense, so why discontinue the streak?
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”
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