A Russian Missile Reportedly Hit Poland & Here's Why 'World War III' Is Trending
It's looking like a very risky mistake.
A Russian missile reportedly hit Polish territory and killed multiple people on Tuesday, in an incident that immediately stoked fears of a World War-level conflict.
It wasn't clear if the attack was intentional, although it immediately raised questions about how Poland's NATO allies will respond.
Phrases like "nuclear war" and "World War III" have been floating around on social media ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. However, Russia has kept its attacks contained to Ukrainian territory ever since.
Until now, it seems.
A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press that a Russian missile crossed into Polish territory and hit a village near the Ukrainian border, killing two people. Polish media are reporting the same, and photos of the damage have since been shared by journalists and foreign affairs experts on social media.
It wasn't immediately clear whether it was a mistake or a deliberate attack, as Russia was also reportedly shelling Ukraine's power infrastructure around that area at the time.
However, the report was enough to spark fears that things could escalate quickly.
Poland, unlike Ukraine, is a member of NATO, the military alliance that includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and much of Europe. Under Article 5 of NATO's rules, all members will treat an attack on one as an attack on all.
So if Poland gets attacked, it can ask NATO countries to jump in and fight back.
Russia didn't immediately explain the attack. Instead, its foreign affairs Twitter account was bragging about the capture of Ukraine's city of Mariupol while "Poland" and "WWIII" were trending.
Meanwhile, people were dragging Russia online for what they saw as a colossal f*ck up.
\u201cRussia after accidentally starting World War III\u201d— Steven Castillo (@Steven Castillo) 1668540000
Thousands were tweeting about Poland and a potential "WWIII" on Tuesday afternoon amid fears that Poland might call for help.
Polish leaders did gather for a "crisis" meeting after the missile hit, AP reports. However, they didn't immediately go to NATO for help or issue a statement.
Many online were quick to point out that Poland has to ask NATO for help first before everyone else gets dragged into a potential fight with Russia. And if this was a mistake on Russia's part, they'd be risking a lot by getting other countries involved.
\u201cCareful. NATO Article V commits members to assist a party that is attacked by "such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force" but there is no obligation to use force. \n\nThis is a serious (and sad) moment but triggers nothing automatically, let alone WWIII.\u201d— Richard Gowan (@Richard Gowan) 1668539304
In other words, it's not an automatic war, and Poland would have to be pretty bold to call for backup after a potential accident.
But still, it's not a great possibility to even think about.
"I don't think anyone in NATO is dumb enough to start World War III over a typical Russian f*ckup," political commentator Jeet Heer tweeted. "But this stuff is dangerous & underscores why it'd be good to have robust backchannels & ongoing diplomacy."
NATO was founded decades ago to counter the threat of the then-Soviet Union, and Russian President Putin has frequently criticized it and hinted at nuclear war if the Ukraine conflict gets any bigger. However, NATO nations have kept their troops out of Ukraine because no one — at this point — wants a major war.
World leaders were slow to respond to the report, although Latvia's defence minister, Artis Pabriks, did pipe up pretty quickly.
"My condolences to our Polish brothers in arms," he tweeted. "Criminal Russian regime fired missiles which target not only Ukrainian civilians but also landed in NATO territory in Poland. Latvia fully stands with Polish friends and condemns this crime."
This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.