The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs says a Russian missile has crossed Ukraine’s border and killed two people in Poland.
The U.S. Government says it is still investigating the reports, and Russia denies them. However, the reports have raised fears about whether this could lead to an escalation in the war.
Why is that, and what should we expect?
What we know so far
The Polish President, Andrzej Duda, has said it was “most likely a Russian-made missile” that struck its territory and killed two people. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had summoned Russia’s ambassador for an explanation.
Western leaders have acknowledged the reports and say they are investigating.
Russia denies the missile was a Russian missile and is calling the reports a “deliberate provocation aimed at escalation”.
Why is this significant?
The main reason this has sparked fears of escalation is that Poland is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a Western military alliance.
NATO includes the U.S, Canada, and a number of European countries (but not Ukraine or Russia).
All of NATO’s parties sign a treaty. ‘Article 5’ of that treaty commits members to “collective defence” if any member is attacked.
Here’s the exact wording of Article 5:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them… [will take] such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
What does that mean?
The wording commits NATO members to defend any member who is attacked.
However, the wording gives members some freedom to decide what that defence will involve. It doesn’t commit NATO to specific actions (such as ‘declaring war’).
Has it been used before?
Article 5 was first invoked after the 9/11 terrorist attack in the U.S.
Separately to Article 5, NATO members have also provided military support to one another before, including during this Ukraine war. NATO troops are already stationed in NATO countries bordering Russia and Ukraine, including Poland.
So far, NATO leaders have responded cautiously, and there is no indication at this stage that any direct military action against Russia is being considered.
According to Reuters, Poland will invoke Article 4, which convenes a NATO meeting to discuss an event of concern.
The U.S. Government has also repeated its commitment to defending NATO territory. However, it has also said it can’t yet confirm what happened.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted it is “important that all facts are established.”