The text of Article 5 of the Nato Charter is unequivocal: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…” and punished with military force as deemed necessary.
That means that three days ago, when two Russian Kh-101 cruise missiles hit the Polish village of Przewodów, killing two, it wasn’t just Poland that was attacked. The other 29 Nato members, including the US, Britain, France and Germany, were on the receiving end too.
Such was the crime, but the punishment is slow in coming. So slow, in fact, that one gets a distinct impression it isn’t coming at all.
For, rather than choosing an appropriate retaliation, Nato leaders banged their heads together trying to figure out the most credible way “not to provoke Putin”, thereby “escalating” the conflict. A little legerdemain, a couple of aces dealt to themselves from the bottom of the pack, and a solution was found.
They decided to tell the world that there had been one missile, not two. And even that missile was Ukrainian, not Russian. Actually, it was an S-300 AA rocket Ukrainians had fired at an incoming Russian missile, but missed.
Joe Biden, speaking with his customary senile vagueness, played along. A Kh-101 missile, he told a credulous world, didn’t have a “trajectory” to hit Przewodów. The world was so credulous that it didn’t ask the natural question: “How come then that those same missiles have the trajectory to hit targets in the west of Ukraine, just a couple of miles east of Przewodów?”
Yet even if that question had been asked, Nato leaders could have been trusted to sweep it under the carpet. Anything less could have ‘provoked’ Putin into an ‘escalation’.
Actually, it’s not just that trajectory thing. You see, when an S-300 rocket misses its aerial target, it self-destructs and breaks down into fragments, none of which can produce a crater the size of the one visible in Przewodów.
Yes, it’s possible, if unlikely, that the self-destruct mechanism of the S-300 failed. That does happen occasionally, but usually when the rocket is used to do a ground-to-ground job, something it isn’t designed to do but, in extreme circumstances, does.
However, there are no Russian troops within hundreds of miles of the Polish border. Hence there were no targets for such misused Ukrainian rockets to hit – unless some bright Nato spark thinks the Ukrainians aimed at Przewodów specifically. Moreover, no S-300 systems were sited in that part of the Ukraine.
Then of course the S-300 is radically different from a Kh-101 in design, size, type of engine. Even a rank amateur, never mind the Nato experts supposedly investigating the incident, ought to be able to tell the remnants of one from the other.
In any case, no such incidentals are allowed to interfere with the ingenuous Nato narrative. Putin wasn’t ‘provoked’, the conflict didn’t ‘escalate’. The show is over, the audience goes home happy.
Except for one minor detail. That obstreperous, not to say provoking and escalating, Zelensky is refusing to play along. He keeps insisting that there were two Kh-101 missiles, not one wayward S-300, and they were fired by the Russians.
Moreover, that spoilsport has the gall to complain that no Ukrainian experts were given access to the site. We are certain the missiles were Russian, Zelensky maintains. But if you think we are wrong, let our people join yours in examining the site.
Now that really gets the biscuit. Nato has accepted magnanimously that the Ukraine isn’t to blame for that wayward S-300. After all, no missiles would have been launched by anyone in the region had the Russians not invaded the Ukraine.
So no one is planning to drag Zelensky before the Hague tribunal, and neither is he asked to compensate the families of the deceased. So what’s his problem?
The FT has quoted an anonymous diplomat from one of the Nato countries as saying, “This is becoming silly. The Ukrainians are undermining our trust. No one is accusing them of anything, and yet they are lying brazenly. That’s more destructive than that missile.”
Stoutly put. Some Nato countries are clearly running out of patience with Zelensky, the leader of a Western-leaning country subjected to the most brutal attack seen in Europe since 1945. Instead of rolling over and playing dead, the Ukrainians had the audacity to fight back, thereby conceivably provoking Putin into an escalation.
So fine, Nato is prepared to arm the Ukraine, up to a point. The country is like a bull in the ring: it’s allowed to fight, but it’s not allowed to win. Nato is prepared to supply it sufficiently for the former, but not for the latter. Otherwise Putin might feel provoked into unleashing a nuclear Armageddon.
I shan’t comment on the unfathomable rudeness of that comment, nor its craven cowardice. Instead I’ll propose a much more likely version of the incident.
Provocation is Putin’s stock in trade. That’s what KGB officers are trained to do, and not only Putin himself but some 80 per cent of his government cut their teeth in that organisation, the most diabolical the world has ever known.
If you look at the whole history of Putin’s tenure, he has always probed, dipping his toe in the water to see how far he could go. That happened in Chechnya, where he sought accommodation when faced with staunch resistance. It happened in Georgia, twice.
It also happened in the Crimea, where he tested the West’s response to that blatant land grab. Having been hit with nothing heavier than token sanctions and expressions of deep concern, he felt emboldened to launch a full-scale offensive on the Ukraine.
That, he kept saying, wasn’t an attack on the Ukraine. It was a preemptive strike against Nato, which is committed to conquering and dismembering Mother Russia. But not on Vlad’s watch.
Now that his war machine is falling apart in the face of the Ukraine’s heroic fightback, he is talking cease-fire, while looking for easier marks elsewhere.
Hitting a Polish village with missiles bears every hallmark of a little test. Nato bigwigs keep talking about Article 5, but do they have the guts to act on it? Or will they come up with a Catch 22, some cowardly excuse not to act?
If they do, perhaps they’ll respond in the same way to another full-scale attack, say on Estonia or Latvia. And tomorrow, the world.
If that indeed was the test, then Nato failed it. I realise I may be wrong in this assumption, as Zelensky may be wrong in insisting that the missiles involved were Russian. But, considering Nato’s refusal to let Ukrainians examine the fragments of the rocket, the scenario I propose looks more plausible.
P.S. The Chancellor’s budget is a poignant and eloquent obituary for the Conservative Party. RIP.