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Missiles That No One Wanted to Notice, - Petro Oleshchuk

NATO should develop its own long-term strategy for responding to hybrid threats from Russia. Petro Oleshchuk, an expert at the United Ukraine think tank, writes about this in his article for The Gaze. The text of the article can be found below.

Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, Russian missiles have repeatedly landed in NATO countries. But any time they hit Poland, they provoked a rather strange reaction, the point of which was to try to pretend that nothing was happening. The missiles were attributed to "the work of Ukrainian air defense," or refused to be mentioned at all until their remains were accidentally found on the territory of the Polish state.

But recently, the situation has begun to change. After withdrawing from the grain deal, Russia moved on to methodically destroying Ukraine's grain export infrastructure. Accordingly, the Russian army has started attacking the Ukrainian port of Izmail, which they had not previously shelled. The peculiarity of this port is that it is located literally on the other side of the Danube from Romania. Russia's use of such weapons as Iranian-made kamikaze drones has led to the fact that these attack vehicles have begun to periodically hit and explode on Romanian territory.

At first, the reaction of the official Romanian authorities was traditional. They simply rejected the very fact that Russian drones had crashed and exploded on the territory of the state. But when in early September 2023 these facts began to become regular, as well as their photo and video evidence, it became pointless to deny it, and the NATO state finally officially recognized the fact that its territory had been attacked by Russian weapons. This happened in the format of summoning the Charge d'Affaires of the Russian Federation to the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presenting an official protest. Although this does not look very serious, it is in fact a significant event. Russia's attack on a NATO member state has been recognized. And this will mean consequences, although the scale and scope of these consequences remain unclear.

Why Were We Silent Before?

The very idea of the NATO bloc is based on the fact that an attack on one member is an attack on all, and this is one of the fundamental principles of the modern world order. However, the implementation of this principle in practice remains a rather complicated issue, because so far NATO has not had to actually put it into practice.

According to NATO's founding documents, an attack on one of its members does not automatically mean that all others will enter the war. The aggressed state itself must begin consultations with other NATO members on this issue. And based on the results of these consultations, final decisions should be made, and this, purely theoretically, does not necessarily have to be a military response. But it is clear that any weak response to aggression against a NATO member will mean a serious crisis or even the collapse of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Therefore, it is not surprising that NATO decision-makers may find it an adequate strategy to simply ignore "minor threats." Any missiles falling on the territory of a NATO member by other states can be considered a threat, and it will require a response, the adequacy of which may always be questioned. Or it is possible to pretend that nothing has happened, and therefore there is no need to respond at all.

Thus, by ignoring the threats, NATO tried to postpone the need to apply its own norms in practice, but this could only be done to a certain point, when everything really looked like an "accident". Regular videos of explosions on the territory of Romania began to become a problem in the context of its own non-recognition, as they signaled a fear of making any decisions. Therefore, the facts of the attacks had to be recognized, but recognition is only the first stage. The next step is to react.

How Will NATO Respond?

It is clear that the situation with the explosions of Russian drones in Romania cannot in itself serve as a trigger for a war between NATO and the Russian Federation. But these are already officially recognized aggressive actions against a NATO member, which, of course, can be declared an accident. But even an accident should not mean a lack of reaction, because then NATO will be in a very difficult situation of constant testing of its own strength by Russia.

Where does "accident" end and "aggression" begin? How far should a drone or missile fly from the border? How destructive should the results of an explosion be? How to prove "accident" or "intent"? It should also be remembered that even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia had repeatedly carried out hybrid aggressions against NATO member states. For example, we can recall numerous attempts to attack the borders of Poland and Lithuania from Belarus with the help of illegal migrants. This shows that Russia can use a variety of means to test NATO's strength. The Kremlin's main goal is to demonstrate the weakness of the Alliance and its inability to respond to challenges.

It seems that NATO also realizes this, and is therefore trying to take a proactive stance. The construction of a new US military base in Finland has been announced. The largest NATO military exercises in Europe since the end of the Cold War are planned for 2024. In the meantime, exercises involving the armed forces of Romania, Ukraine, and the United States are to take place at the mouth of the Danube, where the borders of Ukraine and Romania converge. Apparently, according to the organizers, it is intended to force the Russians to choose between continuing their attacks and risking a conflict with the United States, or suspending them in the Danube region for the time being.

However, it is clear that such measures are only temporary, and NATO must develop its own long-term strategy for responding to hybrid threats from Russia, where official propaganda calls the Alliance its main enemy. Demonstrating NATO's "weakness" is too tempting a prospect for the Russian Federation not to try to constantly balance between direct aggression and imitation of accident. The NATO leadership will no longer be able to ignore this fact.

Source: "The Gaze"

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