I never imagined that the end of the world could start in a remote corner of eastern Poland or that the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse might be centered around a grain storage facility in a place called Przewodow. For several hours the darkest of possibilities arose from a smoldering crater, the product of a missile that landed in the village. What a way it would have been for the apocalypse to begin. On a sleepy afternoon, at the beginning of winter, in a village that few have ever heard of. What did Przewodow and its 413 inhabitants ever do to deserve such infamy. Fortunately, Armageddon was averted as Poland and its fellow NATO member states discovered that the missile was not fired from Russia, but instead came from Ukraine’s air defenses. This was a near miss of world historical proportions. A what if warning to the world that the danger of the Ukraine-Russia war spreading is clear and present. That at any moment the potential for escalation can rise from the obscure places.
Humanity can exhale for now, as life in Przewodow and life on earth will go on much as before. Most of us are either blissfully ignorant, willingly indifferent or vaguely aware of the storm which continues to gather on the warzone’s periphery. It threatens to explode outward beyond the borders of Ukraine at any moment. The incident at Przedonow was an excellent example of this ominous trend that continues to grow. The specter of nuclear war will continue to hang over Eastern Europe, if not the world. One good thing has come from this close call, at least Przewodow will not have its name etched in historical infamy forever. Instead, the village will go back to being as obscure as it always has been. The incident that occurred there will soon be all but forgotten. Thankfully, the village will once again fade from memory until it is a paragraph or two in history books on the Ukraine-Russia War. Przewodow, the place that played a leading role for less than a day, can return to anonymity.
Close call – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda speaks about the missile that hit Przewodow
Close Call – Armageddon Averted
A close friend once told me that it was always better to be lucky, than good. Make of that advice what you will, judging by what occurred in the more obscure reaches of eastern Poland, the world was extremely lucky. Nothing about what happened at Przewodow was good. Two innocent famers lost their lives, NATO members were forced into an emergency meeting, no one wanted to accept responsibility for what occurred, and the international community was reminded how quickly the war could escalate with potentially dire consequences far beyond the battlefield. What happened at Przewodow was the byproduct of over a hundred Russian missiles launched at infrastructure across Ukraine. An overwhelming majority of them were destroyed before they struck their targets. A deadly few made it past Ukrainian air defenses which by the standards of the western world are antiquated.
Just as the Russians are forced to rely on less than smart technology at this point in the war, so too are the Ukrainians forced into using old Soviet missiles to defend themselves. More rather than less incidents like the one at Przewodow are likely to occur. One of Ukraine’s air defense missiles was off target and took no heed of the border. There is no such thing as border control anywhere above ground level, thus the missile fell to earth ten kilometers west of the Poland-Ukraine border in Przedonow. Those farmers who lost their lives to the missile were collateral damage in a war often marked by that. Because the missile turned out to be Ukrainian rather than Russian, there was no need for NATO to invoke Article 5 and there was also no need for the rest of us to clutch articles of faith. Armageddon was averted, for now.
Digging a deeper hole – Investigators at site of the missile strike in Przewodow
Warning Signs – A Matter of If, Not When
The threat of conflict between NATO and Russia passed in a matter of hours. A near miss mainly due to luck. That is not a strategy that any nation wanting to avoid war, especially the nuclear kind, ever wants to rely upon. Nonetheless, that is where the international community finds itself due to the inherent danger of the Ukraine-Russia war. Just how dangerous the situation has become is illustrated by this seemingly random incident. What otherwise will have little bearing on the outcome of the war, almost led to an international crisis the likes of which has not been seen since the height of the Cold War. The situation that just occurred can best be regarded as sinisterly sublime. Here we had an anonymous spot on the map – one that does even rise to the level of a backwater – that could have triggered World War Three.
What ifs, near misses, and narrow escapes rarely focus the mind on a way that leads to course correction. In a world that suffers from attention deficit disorder, moments of reflection are few. That is why Przewodow will go back to being forgotten, the proverbial wide spot in the road, a blink and you miss it village. The obscurity of Przewodow will lead to the incident being downplayed. If the missile had landed in Warsaw, Krakow or even Lublin, the outcry would have been much louder, the warning likely to be heeded. Instead, the incident at Przedonow seems like a one off. A coincidence rather than a trend. Failure to recognize warning signs may lead to a worse outcome the next time. Luck will eventually run out. It is not a matter of if, but when. This is a very dangerous game to be playing.
Look of concern – Western leaders discussing the missile that hit Przewodow at the G7 meeting in Bali
A False Sense of Security – The Next News Cycle
If ever there was a false sense of security than it exists post-Przewodow. Sure, there will be politicians proclaiming that everyone needs to be more careful, but that thought will not last much longer than the next news cycle. Ensuring that an incident like the one at Przewodow does not happen again would need action that is extremely unlikely to be forthcoming. The Ukrainians need the most advanced air defense systems the west can provide. Until those are forthcoming, the Russian missile barrages will continue. Along with them will come the risk of another missile landing where it should not. Przewodow could have been the end, now it looks like the beginning.