Daily Mail

This must be the bucket of cold water to shock West into action

- By General Sir Richard Shirreff

TUESDAY night was a chilling reminder of just how fragile peace in Europe really is. For a brief while, the missile strike on Poland that killed two civilians at a grain farm in the village of Przewodow, five miles from the Ukraine border, raised the ugly prospect of hot war between Russia and the West.

I have warned since the invasion of Ukraine nine months ago that it was likely a Nato country – in all probabilit­y Poland – would be dragged into this bloody conflict.

And I haven’t shied away from admitting that a Russian incursion on any country in the alliance could be trigger for a world war.

Both Polish president Andrzej Duda and Jens Stoltenber­g, head of Nato, announced yesterday that the strike was most likely that of a Ukrainian missile.

But both added the strike was a direct result of Putin’s devastatin­g attack on Ukraine, which he escalated this week with a brutal bombardmen­t of Ukrainian towns and cities following Russia’s humiliatin­g retreat from Kherson.

Above all, we have just had a much needed wake-up call that Nato must stand strong against Putin. It is clear that the Ukraine war, as president Zelensky has long said, has the capacity to become a war in Europe.

Only last month, Zelensky warned European heads of state that Ukrainian victory is essential to ensure that Russia does not ‘advance on Warsaw or again on Prague’.

And yet, we are still relying too heavily on Ukraine to defeat Russia for us.

Nato must urgently bolster its support not only for Ukraine but for other countries like Poland, whose position neighbouri­ng Russia makes them uniquely vulnerable.

Those living close to the border, like the villagers of Przewodow, have been painfully aware of this from the moment Russia invaded Ukraine. Now their fears are made reality.

Even if it was a Ukrainian missile, Poland would be entirely within its rights to invoke Nato Article 4 which allows it to consult its allies if it feels its territoria­l integrity and security are threatened.

This is because the impact of Russian missile attacks so close to the Polish border poses a serious threat to security.

Yet invoking Article 4 only initiates talks – not any commitment to use military force. We must go further. Fearful of baiting the Russian bear, Nato has thus far restricted its support for Ukraine to a limited range of largely defensive weapons and missiles. But the bear is already on the rampage.

Showing weakness, trying to appease it by standing still and hoping it will go away, will not work.

This does not mean undue provocatio­n but if Nato fails to stand strong, its credibilit­y will crumble in Russia’s eyes – or in the eyes of any rogue state, for that matter.

And Russia’s warnings that any further

bolstering of Ukraine’s defences by Nato risks escalation should be treated with contempt – it is Putin’s ever more callous decimation of Ukraine that is raising the stakes of this war.

On Tuesday alone, more than 100 rockets were fired at cities across the country, hitting civilian buildings and power stations, leaving the country’s energy network ‘critical’ with rolling blackouts.

Nato must now visibly enhance its defensive military capabiliti­es across the alliance, reinforcin­g Poland and other Eastern European Nato allies with air defence missiles and air defence batteries as part of an enhanced Nato presence there, removing any possible doubt that it is ready and able to support and protect them.

Ukraine desperatel­y needs aircraft – particular­ly air defence fighter jets – which are a key to an effective defensive shield against Russia’s own aircraft and missiles.

So far Nato has refused to supply these, but it should now begin doing so. Not only this, but Nato must cease to discrimina­te between the weapons we supply. Any distinctio­n between offensive and defensive weapons is effectivel­y immaterial in the face of Russian aggression.

Nato has so far rejected Ukraine’s pleas for long-range missiles. But with Russia now ramping up missile attacks on Ukraine, a tactic they are to likely resort to more as winter further hampers the movements of their underperfo­rming troops, this position is no longer tenable.

It only condemns more Ukrainians to death, and allows Putin to draw the conclusion that the West simply lacks the will to properly support Ukraine.

For months Ukraine has specifical­ly asked for Army Tactical Missile Systems, surfaceto-surface long-range missiles (ATACMS) that can travel up to 300 kilometres (190 miles). These would be game-changing for Ukraine’s defence, enabling it to target Russian forces more effectivel­y.

ATACMS could be used to hit strategic Russian targets such as the Kerch Straits bridge which connects Crimea to the Russian mainland, blown up by Ukrainian forces last month.

Long-range missile strikes could permanentl­y block it off, underminin­g both Russia’s morale and its ability to supply its forces in Ukraine. In Britain, the Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak should urgently reconsider plans to withdraw troops from Estonia by the end of the year.

AND though the government purse is stretched as it is, it is vital Mr Sunak meets the pledge, set by his predecesso­r Liz Truss, to spend 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence by 2030.

This is the price we must pay for the future of the rules-based internatio­nal order.

Regretfull­y, I don’t believe that Nato has, at least until now, properly accepted or prepared for the nightmare scenario of hot war with Russia, although the risk has been there from the start.

Continuing to pretend that it doesn’t exist only makes it more likely by emboldenin­g Putin.

Strength is the only language that Putin understand­s.

And I hope Tuesday’s missile strike was the much-needed bucket of cold water that shocks our languid alliance into action.

nGeneral Sir Richard Shirreff is the former deputy supreme allied commander Europe

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