It’s been a tension-filled afternoon and evening on NATO’s Eastern Flank after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland, a short distance away from the Ukrainian frontier. It did not take long for the media to assume the missile belonged to the Russian military. In the absence of facts, the media speculated, and soon the Polish government called an emergency meeting. Social media reports took over from here and it was not very long before World War III was trending on Twitter and other platforms this afternoon.
As it stands now, there has been no confirmation that the missiles were Russian, in spite of supposed remarks by a US ‘intelligence official’ that they were. The US government, as well as other Western allies are investigating but have not been able to confirm the cause of the explosion. Two Polish citizens were killed in the blast, however little beyond this is known for certain. Consultations are taking place across Europe this evening. Poland has invoked Article 4 and tomorrow NATO ambassadors will meet to discuss the matter in detail.
Russia has denied that any of its missiles had been targeted at any points in proximity to the Polish border. The incident did occur around the same time a heavy wave of Russian missiles struck power infrastructure targets around Ukraine, causing considerable damage.
As the night goes on, hopefully more solid information will become known. We’ll follow up with an update here late tomorrow morning.
US President Joe Biden did some damage control on his own behalf over comments he made over the weekend suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin should be removed from power. Biden said today that he stood by the statement, yet it was a personal expression of his outrage and not an official change in US policy. “I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward this man,” Biden told reporters today, effectively rejecting suggestions he misspoke. Right, Joe. 😊 Administration officials have been trying to put out fires created by the comments. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed the United States does not “have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter.”
The Group of Seven (G7) member nations have rejected Russia’s demand to pay for natural gas exports in rubles. G7 energy ministers and secretaries met via videoconference and affirmed that doing so would be a breach of existing contracts. Last week, Vladimir Putin announced that ‘unfriendly’ nations will now be required to pay for natural gas in Russian currency. Putin’s announcement raised gas prices even higher amid worries this could be a precursor to a shutdown of pipelines providing natural gas supplies to many European nations.
The next round of Ukraine-Russia peace talks will take place in Istanbul on 29 March, 2022. The Turkish government will be the host.
There have been conflicting reports on which side controlled Irpin, a town located north of Kiev. Initial reports of Ukrainian forces liberating the town made the rounds through much of Monday. In his nightly address President Volodymyr Zelenskiy clarified the situation. “The occupiers are pushed away from Irpin, However, it is too early to talk about security in this part of our region.” Translation: Russian forces have retreated from Irpin, but a counterattack is expected within the next 12 hours or so.
Joe Biden’s ‘major speech’ was anything but. The address given by Biden in Warsaw today was a rehashing of the US and Western positions on Russia and Russian leadership. The highlight came when Biden called for Putin’s removal from power. He labeled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a ‘strategic failure’ reaffirmed US and Western support for Ukraine and that the world must prepare for a ‘long fight ahead’. Biden also attempted to adopt a firm stance when he warned Russia about taking action against any NATO member-state.
On Saturday afternoon, Lviv was struck by three Russian missiles. Two of the missiles landed in the city’s eastern outskirts, reportedly at an oil or fuel storage facility. A short while later a third missile impacted somewhere inside the city limits. Lviv’s mayor also said the city has been targeted by airstrikes.
With Kiev and most other Ukrainian cities proving to be nearly impossible objectives to capture, the Russian military is shifting its focus to the Donbas region. In an operational briefing on Friday, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoy stated his nation’s is now the liberation of Donbas. “The main objectives of the first stage of the operation have generally been accomplished,” Rudskoy announced to gathered reporter. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which…makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of the Donbas.”
Today, Belarusian authorities cleared the largest migrant camps along its border with Poland. The intentions of the Minsk government are unclear at present, but the move is seen as a positive step by some international observers, perhaps even marking the start of a de-escalation in the migrant crisis that has blossomed into a East-West confrontation. In another possible sign of de-escalation, hundreds of Iraqis who spent weeks camped at the border are in the process of flying home. The rest of the migrants at the border will be moved to a processing center. Whether the move is permanent or not remains to be seen. For the short term though, the migrants will have shelter from the freezing temperatures and less-than-hospitable conditions on the border. As the migrant camps were being cleared, Polish security forces repelled a coordinated effort by a group of Middle Eastern migrants to cross the border. This attempt was smaller than the one made two days ago at the Kuznica border crossing point. Nine Polish police officers were injured in the melee that developed then.
Earlier this week diplomatic activity aimed at ending the crisis was ramped up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel held two telephone conversations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. French President Emmanuel Macron also discussed the crisis with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. It’s unclear if these talks are responsible for Thursday’s dismantling of the camps, but today Putin called on Lukashenko to begin a dialogue with the European leaders. Germany and the European Union have also rejected a Belarusian request to take in thousands of migrants and asylum seekers now in Belarus.
With the migrant situation on its eastern border showing no signs of easing, the Polish government is looking for NATO to play a more prominent role in the crisis. Today, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki let it be known that Poland, Latvia and Lithuania are considering placing a request for consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article 4 allows member-nations to request a consultation when their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened. Invoking this particular article does not signal that an escalation is imminent, though it does indicate how critical the three nations consider the situation on their borders to be. NATO involvement in the crisis has so far been minimal. The security threat to Poland and the Baltic States, stemming from thousands of migrants pressed up against their frontiers, is not yet evident. The European Union has been the primary supra-national body involved in the dispute.
The EU is set to expand the sanctions against Belarus on Monday to include airlines and private businesses involved in bringing migrants to the Poland-Belarus border. Sanctions against the Minsk National Airport are also under consideration, according to a number of sources in Brussels. Tomorrow, EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet and finalize the new sanctions.