As you know, just last week in Poland, a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border, a rocket killed two local residents. The world then froze in anticipation of a war between Russia and NATO. However, it soon became clear that, most likely, it was an accidentally flown Ukrainian air defense missile. However, Poland announced that it had accepted a German offer to supply Patriot air defense systems to be placed near the border with Ukraine, writes The New York Times .
Poland, like the United States, has provided unwavering support to Ukraine since the start of Russia's special operation in February, including by supplying weapons, but it has no desire to get involved in a war with Moscow.
However, even though the new air defense systems from Germany will be installed in Poland within many months, by which time the situation in Ukraine may well have changed radically, Poland's plans to deploy them near the conflict zone signal its growing concerns about its own security.
The deployment of US-made Patriot interceptors near the border with Ukraine raises many complex questions rooted in NATO's desire to help Ukraine while remaining outside the conflict zone.
“What happens if our radar shows the approach of missiles and they need to be intercepted inside Ukraine?” asks Jacek Bartosiak, head of the Warsaw-based Strategy and Future security research group.
This scenario, he said, is unlikely to draw NATO into a direct confrontation with Russia, since Russian warplanes no longer fly into areas of western Ukraine near Poland, and there is no real risk of them being accidentally hit by a missile. The PAC-3 Patriot missiles offered by Germany have a range of only about 20 kilometers, which means they will not reach areas of Ukraine where Russian air or ground forces are currently operating.
However, according to Mr. Bartosiak, there is still a possibility that “Patriot missiles will operate in Ukrainian airspace,” which would undermine NATO's neutral position in this conflict.
It is also known that Russia has for years opposed the deployment of US missiles in Poland, although the Pentagon claims they are part of a program to protect against ballistic missiles fired by rogue states such as Iran.
However, Germany has already sent Patriot missiles to Slovakia, which also borders Ukraine, and the United States military installed its own Patriot batteries in April at Poland's Rzeszow airport, a key transit hub near the Ukrainian border for Western weapons entering Ukraine. However, so far none of these air defense systems has been involved in clashes with Russia inside Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense of Poland has already reported that the first battery of Patriot missiles from Germany has already arrived and is being tested. These air defense systems will reach full combat readiness in 2024 or even in 2025.
“We want Ukraine to win, but our priority is to keep Poland and other NATO territories safe,” said Robert Chulda, an expert at the University of Lodz. “We are happy to help them and deliver weapons, but there is no question of direct participation. Nobody here wants that." He also said there was a "very, very minimal risk" that the new Patriot systems would drag NATO into a confrontation with Russia in Ukraine. “These missiles will not hit Russian aircraft in Ukraine,” the expert warned. "But if the Russians fly to Poland, that's their problem."