Three drone incidents have fueled fears that Russia’s war in Ukraine could spill over into NATO countries, even unintentionally, forcing NATO to decide how — if any — to respond to events within its borders .
But NATO’s unsuccessful attempts to reach Russia through de-conflict hotlines and written letters have raised concerns about Russia’s willingness to engage as the invasion of Ukraine has spread further west into NATO territory, a senior NATO military official said on Wednesday.
“We are of course trying to communicate with them,” one of the officials told reporters at a briefing at NATO headquarters. “But it takes two [sides] to communicate. ”
The U.S. military has surveillance tools and sensors to help mitigate potential escalations, including the ability to receive radar emissions and infrared signals from missiles fired from Russia or Belarus. U.S. officials could then analyze the expected trajectory and try to keep an eye on it — so if it veered, it could be understood whether it was intentional or accidental, Defense officials said.
While the U.S. and NATO have stopped drone surveillance flights within Ukraine, the U.S. military is flying surveillance drones and U-2 aircraft along the border and using satellites overhead, officials said. NATO also regularly flies its Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft near Ukraine. Patriot air defense systems have also been deployed to Poland to help deal with projectiles that could enter NATO airspace.
“There’s a lot of drones flying around, so everyone is looking nervously over their shoulders,” said Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Given the scale of what Russia is doing here, this That kind of thing is not surprising. It’s one of the reasons why everyone is so nervous right now.”
risk of accident
With tensions raised over the prospect of Russian drones or bombs flooding NATO territory, the Biden administration has made careful divisions about what it is willing to do to help Ukraine fight the Russians. The U.S. and NATO have provided Ukraine with hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance, including air defense and anti-tank missiles, but the Biden administration has opposed a U.S. plan to send Polish fighter jets to Ukraine via a German air base, warning it would be an escalation.
U.S. and NATO officials have also made it clear that they do not plan to deploy any troops to Ukraine. But with President Joe Biden and other senior officials pledging to defend “every inch” of NATO territory, U.S. and NATO officials are stepping up surveillance and patrols near NATO’s border with Ukraine to prevent any unintended escalation.
“We are increasing our vigilance, our presence, our surveillance of our airspace,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference this week. ability to make sure we can respond when needed.”
Stoltenberg noted that new Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries have been deployed on the coalition’s east flank. The drone incident, he said, “highlights the risks of drones and aircraft, such as accidents, as military activity in the air increases.”
“So we need to be on high alert, we need to react when we need to, we need to make sure we have lines of communication with the Russians, and we have lines of communication to prevent instances from actually creating a dangerous situation,” Stoltenberg said.
CNN national security and military analyst and retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said drones could veer off course if pilots lost control, while unguided missiles used by Russia could miss their targets, with range increasing the likelihood of entry. NATO territory, especially if Russian troops move further into western Ukraine.
But in any incident that could involve NATO airspace or territory, the key to avoiding escalation is communication, Hertling said.
“Details matter, and when a NATO country is affected, we’d better get the details from Russia,” he said. “And better hurry up because it’s also an escalation move.”
look up to the sky
“There are some factors that suggest it could come from” Ukraine and Russia, Bonozic said.
Stoltenberg said NATO’s air and missile defense systems tracked the “flight path of objects” that entered Romanian airspace on Sunday, with Romanian fighter jets scrambling to investigate. NATO is reviewing events in Romania and Croatia, he said.
The current assessment of the NATO Allied Supreme Commander is that “there is currently no threat to NATO. Russia is not a deliberate threat. Russia is temporarily occupied by Ukraine,” the officials said.
But of course there are risks, the officials added, which is why there is now talk of moving NATO’s defenses further east.
“As we see now, Russia is ready to use military means again in central Europe to achieve political goals, it is worth and will be discussed, the advancement of integrated air and missile defense systems to cover areas adjacent to Russia,” one of the an official said. Those areas include Belarus and possibly Ukraine, he added.
Jeff Edmonds, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security and former director of Russia at the National Security Council, said the risk to NATO territory will only increase as Russian forces move farther west and closer to delivering weapons. NATO is supplying supplies to the Ukrainian army.
“If as they make progress towards the west, the more they may feel that they have the freedom of maneuver to deal with something that crosses the border,” Edmonds said of the Russian military. “One of the scenarios here is that a Russian attack — – doesn’t really care which side of the border – as long as it hits the target, they think they can call the US and NATO bluffs instead of calling for an all-out war.”
Asked about Poland’s call on Wednesday to send NATO troops into Ukraine on a “peacekeeping” mission, NATO military officials said such a plan was untenable.
“We’re looking at two nation-states at war. If they agree on a credible and strong peace solution, I don’t necessarily see a need for a peacekeeping mission,” one of the officials said. “If you’re looking at another version of ‘peacekeeping,’ it’s actually ‘peace enforcement,’ I mean, it’s a war with Russia.”
“Then we have to ‘protect,'” the official explained, “and then shoot, then kill, then destroy.”
CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.