Polish Military Chief Says Russia is Escalating on NATO’s Border
After missile debris kills Poles, Ukrainian officials say “air shield” talks with allies are underway.
HALIFAX, Canada — Russia’s war on Ukraine is becoming more dangerous for Poland and other NATO allies on Ukraine’s border, said Polish military chief Gen. Rajmund Andrzejczak, after falling debris killed two people in his country this week.
“The conclusion [is] that Russia is escalating,” Andrzejczak said. “It is going closer and closer to the NATO borders. I would say winter is coming, not necessarily only in the season, but in much wider meaning: winter is coming to the borders.”
Russia fired nearly 100 missiles into Ukraine on Wednesday, knocking out key portions of the electricity grid. President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and Polish officials have said that the debris that fell was likely the result of Ukrainian defenses attempting to intercept Russian missiles.
Ukrainian leaders have yet to accept that conclusion, but are using the incident to call for a more advanced air defense system that is integrated with those of other European countries. Andrii Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Saturday that Ukraine was consulting with "allies" on an air-defense agreement but gave few other details.
“Ukraine, together with its closest allies, started the development of the Joint Declaration on the Ukrainian Air Shield,” said Yermak, in a speech delivered virtually at the Halifax International Security Forum, in Canada.
“As Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure are going to continue, Ukraine desperately needs an effective missile defense system—very quick, before the onset of winter. Effective protection of our sky is an important security-guarantee component … That's why we aim at building a complex, multi-level system of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense. It will contribute to the entire European air security.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at first insisted that the debris came from a Russian strike. On Saturday, Yermak said, “It will be not right to say that it's a Ukrainian…rocket” until the investigation is completed.
While the Polish and Ukrainian governments aren’t on the same page about where the missile came from, they are aligned on Ukraine’s continued need for support, particularly for air defenses.
Said Andrzejczak, “I would say we need a more developed discussion on the strategical level to realize if we, if we [are] helping enough with Ukraine… Ukraine has to win. And there's the question for us: Is it enough, what we're doing?”
Soon after, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivered a keynote speech to the conference, answering that question with a full-throated call for continued Western support for Ukraine. On Wednesday, Austin had hosted the latest virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group ministers of 50 nations, resulting in new pledges of arms and equipment, and hopeful sentiment that winter could allow space for negotiations to end the fighting, which some Ukraine supporters have criticized.
“The outcome of the war in Ukraine will help determine the course of global security in this young century. And those of us in North America don’t have the option of sitting this one out,” Austin said on Saturday. “I believe that our support for the forces of freedom in Ukraine will hold fast, in any season or any storm.”
Kevin Baron contributed to this report from Halifax.