Today's D Brief: Ukraine suffers largest Russian missile attack yet; Errant missile kills 2 in Poland; Judge strikes down WH border policy; Tanker attack near Oman; And a bit more.
Spillover violence in Poland: Amid Russia’s most intense missile attacks on Ukraine to date, a Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile appears to have gone off course and landed just across the border with Poland, killing two farmers in a rural area in the eastern part of the country on Tuesday. News of the Polish deaths seems to have first surfaced via commercial radio station Radio Zet, which shared an image of the purported aftermath with a fairly sizable crater next to a tractor and trailer at night.
The tragic strike instantly triggered a flurry of diplomacy from NATO officials pondering a possible new attack on an ally, and what collective defense consequences ought to be in store. It also put reporters on edge in the states, impatient over the careful, methodical verification process of determining exactly whose missile landed in Poland, which is six time zones away from Washington. Even top Ukrainian officials, like Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, found themselves swept up in the emotion of the moment, and publicly labeled allegations Poland might have been hit with a Ukrainian missile, and not a Russian one, a “conspiracy theory.”
WH POV: “I’m going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters during his trip to meet G20 officials in Bali, Indonesia. “I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate. But it’s unlikely,” he said, “that it was fired from Russia. But we’ll see.”
Warsaw’s POV: “There is no indication that this was an intentional attack on Poland,” Polish President Andrzej Duda tweeted Wednesday. “Most likely, it was a Russian-made S-300 missile,” he added, and said, “At the moment we have no proof that it was a rocket launched by the Russian side.”
Latest from NATO: “We have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday in Brussels. “And we have no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against NATO.” The alliance’s top military commander, U.S. Army Gen. Chris Cavoli, briefed alliance officials on his latest findings earlier in the day, Stoltenberg said. “Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.”
“Let me be clear: This is not Ukraine’s fault,” the NATO chief said Wednesday. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine,” he said, and stressed, “Russia must stop this senseless war.”
- By the way: “This kind of stuff isn’t really all that new,” said Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Twitter Tuesday. He noted India’s missile failure earlier this year that sent a supersonic cruise missile into neighboring Pakistan, as well as several episodes with North and South Korean missile failures. Even a U.S. rocket fired in Utah 52 years ago landed about 180 miles south of the Mexican border.
“A total of 90 missiles” were fired at Ukraine, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his evening address Tuesday; 70 of those were shot down, he said. But the ones that were not downed—in addition to exploding drones—struck Ukraine’s “Energy system, enterprises, and residential buildings,” the president said. (FWIW, Ukraine’s military said Thursday “more than 90 Kh-101 and Kalibr [cruise] missiles and more than ten attack UAVs” were sent at Ukraine; 77 of the missiles and 10 of the drones were allegedly downed.)
“The largest set of missile strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure since the start of the war.” That’s how the Institute for the Study of War described Tuesday’s wave of attacks from Russia. “The Russian military likely used a substantial portion of its remaining high-precision weapon systems in the coordinated missile strikes,” they noted, emphasizing “Ukraine‘s increased shoot-down percentage illustrates the improvement in Ukrainian air defenses in the last month, and [Kyiv’s military officials] attributed this improvement to the effectiveness of Western-provided air defense systems.”
The Russian barrage hit 12 electricity power substations, and disconnected two of Ukraine’s remaining three nuclear power plants off the national power grid, cutting electricity, water, and heat for 10 million people across the country, Zelenskyy said. Multiple cities were targeted in the Russian strikes, including the capital Kyiv and large cities like Kharkiv in the east, Lviv in the west, and Rivne to the north.
Even portions of neighboring Moldova were affected by the power outages, Infrastructure Minister Andrei Spinu said on Telegram on Tuesday. Service was restored for a majority of those affected just hours later, he added.
The Russian missiles also knocked out internet coverage across Ukraine in what the web monitors at NetBlocks called “the largest sustained disruption to network connectivity attributed to power outages, and by proxy energy supply, since the beginning of the war.”
Next up: We can possibly expect more animated discussions about Ukraine’s air defense needs in the face of an especially angry Russian military, upset over having to retreat from the only Ukrainian regional capital captured by Vladimir Putin’s ragtag invading forces. One place to begin reviewing those AD needs is the recent report on this very topic from the Royal United Services Institute, based in the UK. Three of their analysts teamed up to produce this report, published just nine days ago.
Speaking of air defense needs: The Pentagon recently sent two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile air defense systems to Ukraine; and those have allegedly had a 100% success rate intercepting Russian missiles so far, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Otherwise, Russian forces appear to be digging more trenches and defensive positions across select parts of southern Ukraine still occupied by invading troops. That’s according to Brady Africk of the American Enterprise Institute, utilizing Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite imagery Tuesday.
Related reading: Get a better understanding of Ukraine’s railways and the resilience of locals thanks to a new dispatch from Sarah Topol of the New York Times, who rode the rails for five weeks and turned in this photo-packed report on Tuesday.
From Defense One
The Air & Space Brief: Another try for Artemis launch; DOD’s pace of change; Nuke-policy fail? // Jennifer Hlad:
Deadly ‘Projectile’ in Poland Raises Tensions As Russian Strikes Pound Ukraine // Patrick Tucker: AP says Russian missiles killed two on NATO territory, but Pentagon declines to corroborate report.
The US’s New Tool for Deterrence Isn’t Ready // Elizabeth Howe: The “SOF, space, and cyber triad” is meant to serve as an integrated deterrent, much like the nuclear triad.
Senator to Elon Musk: 'Fix Your Companies. Or Congress Will' // Edward Graham: The SpaceX and social-media mogul mocked Sen. Ed Markey’s concerns about Twitter verifying fake accounts.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1940, former U.S. Marine and disgruntled electrician George Metesky left his first bomb on a windowsill at the Consolidated Edison power plant in Manhattan, along with a note that read, “Con Edison crooks—this is for you.” The bomb didn’t explode, so he tried but failed again the following September. But shortly after the U.S. entered World War Two that December, police in New York received a letter that said, “I will make no more bomb units for the duration of the war—my patriotic feelings have made me decide this—later I will bring the Con Edison to justice.” After a 10-year hiatus, Metesky began planting bombs across the city again—including inside phone booths, storage lockers, and bathrooms at train stations, libraries, and bus terminals—earning him the nickname “the mad bomber.” Many were injured in his bomb spree, but fortunately no one was killed. Investigators eventually arrested Matesky in January 1957.
U.S. border officials may soon be processing a lot more migrants through customs at America’s southern border after a federal judge declared a pandemic-era policy unconstitutional on Tuesday. That approach, known as Title 42, allowed customs and border officials to expel migrants on public health grounds. But District Judge Emmet Sullivan called the policy “arbitrary and capricious,” and said it violated federal law under the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the New York Times.
In the short term, “There could be a sudden surge in overcrowding, as the agency tries to frantically find bed space to put people,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, told the Times. But what the change really means, he said, “is that normal immigration law is in effect at the border. Migrants cannot be expelled to Mexico or their home countries.” Just last month, for example, Title 42 was used to expel more than 78,000 migrants, CNN reported following Sullivan’s decision. Looking a bit more widely, Fox reports that “The Trump administration used the authority to expel more than 185,000 migrants in fiscal year 2020, while the Biden administration expelled 937,000 migrants in 2021 and 983,000 migrants in 2022 using Title 42, according to Customs and Border Protection data.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded with indignance Tuesday, warning on Twitter, “This will further signal to cartels, human smugglers, & illegal immigrants that the border is wide open—inciting more violence & lawlessness.”
A second opinion: “Title 42 was never about public health, and this ruling finally ends the charade of using Title 42 to bar desperate asylum seekers from even getting a hearing,” Lee Gelernt of the ACLU said in a statement Tuesday.
Now what? “The ruling will complicate President Joe Biden's strategy for deterring record-high border crossings,” Reuters reported. Meanwhile, “The administration late on Tuesday filed an unopposed motion to delay the implementation of the decision by five weeks to allow it to move additional resources to the border and coordinate with state and local governments and non-profits.” Read more, here.
And lastly: An oil tanker owned by an Israeli billionaire was hit Tuesday in the Gulf of Oman by what is believed to be an Iranian drone, the Wall Street Journal reported. The strike damaged the ship but no one was hurt and no oil or cargo spilled out.
The drone was the same type Iran has been giving to Russia to use in its war with Ukraine, an Israeli official told Reuters. Iran, meanwhile, blamed Israel for the attack. The Singapore-based company that manages the tanker, Eastern Pacific Shipping, is investigating but said “preliminary reports indicate the vessel…was hit by a projectile.”
And ICYMI: “Iran and China Use Private Detectives to Spy on Dissidents in America,” the New York Times reported Sunday.