Like many others I was initially shocked at the news reports that two Russian missiles hit a farm in Przevodow in Poland just over the border from Ukraine. Two Poles were killed in the strike and the farm and its vehicles were heavily damaged.
On the surface this represents a serious escalation of what is already a pointless conflict devised by a megalomaniac with the sole purpose of keeping himself in power. We know who we are talking about! Russia of course denies any involvement in the incident and we all know how to respond to Russian "denials" especially since February.
"We have no intention of attacking Ukraine" - Remember That One?
There are however four possible scenarios at play here and we need to be careful how we assess them.
- The Russians deliberately attacked an isolated farm that has no strategic or military value. This is highly unlikely as Russia despite its appalling behaviour has been treading carefully around NATO. If it was deliberate then it might just be designed to test Nato's resolve.
- They were stray Russian missiles that overshot their target and fell in Poland which was never the intended target. This is a highly realistic scenario and the Slovaks have been right in calling it at the very least "reckless". We must also remember that during the Kosovo War of 1999 Nato accidentally bombed an Albanian village while targeting Serb positions inside Kosovo. These things do happen and if this was the case, while unacceptable, it does not represent an attack on Nato or one of its member countries.
- The incoming missiles were shot down by Ukrainian anti-missile defences and due to the impact of the explosion they fell into Polish territory. Again this is a potentially realistic scenario and if this is the case Zelenskyy must show continued integrity and categorically state this is what happened. If this is what happened we must be clear that Ukrainian defences were only active because of incoming Russian missiles. Culpability must remain with the Russians.
- The missiles were Ukrainian launched, but this is almost laughable and can be dismissed immediately. The Ukrainians would immediately be found out and lose that moral high ground that they have maintained throughout. Strategically it makes no sense, why would they be firing west into an area on the borderlands with Poland which has no Russian ground presence. It just doesn't make sense.
Whichever scenario proves to be the right one (second or third most likely), NATO must respond, otherwise we will see a repetition of similar incidents and more bare-faced lying from Putin and his puppets.
Personally I think this justifies the implementation of a limited no fly zone over Ukrainian territory. I am not expert enough to be able to suggest how big, but let's suggest 15km (approx 10 miles) from a Nato border (excluding Belarus and Kalingrad - the later of which does not share a border with Ukraine anyway). Anything in that area, other than approved Ukrainian traffic (it is their airspace after all) will be considered as hostile and when it comes to missiles and other ordnance it will be shot down. If it is a plane or helicopter they will be warned to leave the area immediately or face the consequences.
It might be viewed as an escalation and probably it is, but to do nothing is to acquiesce.
This puts the ball firmly back into Putin's court because what Nato will be saying is "Mr Putin if you.... this will be the consequence."