The United States is on high alert after a Russian missile strike in Poland killed two people on Tuesday, an incident that could signal a major turning point for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
We’ll share what we know of the strike and the U.S. and NATO response, plus an explainer on Article 5, the White House’s new Ukraine aid ask for Congress, and the biggest threats facing the nation, according to the heads of the FBI and DHS.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell.
Deadly strike in Poland risks dangerous escalation
The explosion and deaths on Polish land after Tuesday’s Russian missile strike mark the realization of a long-held concern among NATO members: that the Kremlin’s attacks on Ukraine would spill beyond its borders and risk widening the conflict by triggering Article 5, the mutual defense pact of member states.
Poland, which quickly began an investigation into exactly what happened, was considering invoking Article 4, which allows any NATO member to call a discussion of the council, and the nation is expected to convene a meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels on Wednesday.
Calls and meetings: The deaths also set off a flurry of calls and meetings between top Western officials, with President Biden, on travel in Bali, Indonesia, for the Group of 20 Heads of State and Government Summit, speaking with Polish President Andrzej Duda early Wednesday morning local time.
In a readout on the call, the White House said Biden “offered full U.S support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation” and “reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Polish counterpart, Jacek Siewiera, chief of the National Security Bureau of Poland, as the Polish National Security Council convened in the wake of the strike. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with his Polish counterpart Tuesday.
Still unknown: Many questions were still unanswered as of Tuesday evening, among them whether the Russian missile was intended to cross into Poland or was meant for Ukrainian territory and missed its mark.
Emerging details: The emerging details are the explosions occurred in the village of Przewodów, just north of the Ukrainian border, after the Kremlin-made armament fell at about 3:40 p.m. local time, Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lukasz Jasina said in a statement late Tuesday.
It was not clear where the projectile came from, though the Polish explosion happened the same day Russia began a barrage of missile strikes across Ukraine following a retreat from the key city of Kherson.
The Polish president in a Tuesday address said his country does not know who fired the missile at the center of the incident but that it was “most likely produced in Russia.”
Russian denial: Russia’s Defense Ministry appeared to deny any involvement when it said no missile strikes were made on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border.
An escalation?: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday called the incident a “really significant escalation” of the war between Kyiv and Moscow.
“Hitting NATO territory with missiles. … This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a really significant escalation. Action is needed,” Zelensky said in a video address.
The deadly nature of Tuesday’s explosions may mean an escalation in the conflict, with fears confirmed that the Ukraine-Russia war would eventually spread into NATO countries the longer it drags on.
Next steps: Ukraine instead appears to lean toward the route of Article 4, where any alliance can bring an issue of concern to the table for discussion with the North Atlantic Council. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, called Tuesday afternoon for a NATO summit with Ukraine’s participation to discuss next steps.
The move would certainly be welcomed by U.S. officials, who are none too eager to see the conflict escalate and have urged caution in their responses until more details emerge.
WHAT IS ARTICLE 5 OF THE NATO TREATY?
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO’s founding document, says that any attack on a NATO member in Europe or North America “shall be considered an attack against them all.”
Once a member invokes the principle of collective self-defense under the treaty, NATO can come to its defense with “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
But that doesn’t mean any attack on a NATO member automatically triggers a state of war.
“It’s not like a trigger mechanism. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow every single country in NATO responds with a full military invasion of Russia,” Joel Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary of State, said.
Also from The Hill:
- Biden: ‘Unlikely’ missile that hit Poland was fired from Russia, pending investigation
- Poland calls NATO meeting after Russian-made missile kills two
- Biden convenes emergency meeting with G-7 allies after missile kills two in Poland
White House asks for $37.7B in new Ukraine aid
The White House on Tuesday asked Congress to approve $37.7 billion in additional aid for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion, a request that comes ahead of both a government funding deadline and the expected flipping of the House to Republican control.
The Biden administration is requesting that Congress authorize $21.7 billion in defense aid to continue providing equipment to Ukraine and to replenish Department of Defense stocks. It is also asking for $14.5 billion for direct budget support to Ukraine, critical wartime investments and security assistance as well as to strengthen global food security and provide humanitarian assistance.
Wait, there’s more: Additionally, $626 million would go to providing nuclear security support for Ukraine and to modernizing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reduce domestic energy costs and ensure sustainable access to energy resources. And $900 million would go to help with health care and support services to Ukrainians.
The new funding would be “to ensure that Ukraine has the funding, weapons, and support it needs to defend itself,” an administration official told reporters when previewing the request on Tuesday.
Earlier assistance: It would be on top of the nearly $19 billion the U.S. has provided in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February.
The official said that three-quarters of the funding to Ukraine that Congress has provided has been already dispersed and that it was always intended to last only through the end of the year.
A deadline: Congress, meanwhile, has until Dec. 16 to agree on new funding levels to avert a U.S. government shutdown.
FBI, DHS warns of risks of targeted violence
National security leaders on Tuesday stressed the ongoing threat posed by domestic extremism, terrorism and foreign countries as GOP lawmakers homed in on the southern border.
The hearing, an annual examination from the House Homeland Security Committee of threats facing the U.S., highlighted the gap between the top security focuses of the Biden administration and the extent a Republican-led Congress would zero in on oversight efforts at the border.
A series of threats: FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas rattled off a series of threats from both outside and inside the U.S., noting efforts made by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea to seek to undermine U.S. global power.
And internally, the U.S. is battling a rise in violent extremism that has increasingly been focused on political leaders and government institutions.
“The risk of targeted violence, perpetrated by actors abroad and at home, is substantial. Emerging technology platforms allow individuals and nation states to fan the flames of hate and personal grievances to large audiences and are encouraging people to commit violent acts,” Mayorkas said.
Targets and a dangerous trend: “Those driven to violence are targeting critical infrastructure; soft targets; faith-based institutions; institutions of higher education; racial and religious minorities; government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement and the military; and perceived ideological opponents.”
The hearing came just weeks after a man broke into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) home, attacking her husband in her absence and reportedly asking, “Where’s Nancy?”
“We have seen a trend over the last several years of people more and more in this country when they’re upset or angry about something turning to violence as a way to manifest it. And that is a very, very dangerous trend,” Wray said.
The biggest worry: Mayorkas pointed to domestic terrorists as the greatest threat facing the homeland, while Wray noted the particular risk posed by lone actors and small cells, a more difficult group for law enforcement to monitor.
“With the lone actors in these small cells, the real problem there is there are not a lot of dots out there to connect, and there’s very little time in which to connect them. So that presents a whole new type of challenge for law enforcement and the intelligence community,” Wray added.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hold Day 2 of its conference on “Realizing Joint All-Domain Command and Control,” at 9 a.m.
- The Potomac Officers Club, will hold a discussion on “Cybersecurity in the Modern Intelligence Community,” at 10 a.m.
- The Atlantic Council will host a conversation on “Russia Retreats from Kherson: What’s Next?” at 10:30 a.m.
- The Heritage Foundation will hold a talk on “The American stake in the Taiwan Strait,” at 12 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Biden speaks with Polish President Duda after Russia missile strike
- Zelensky calls Russian missiles hitting Poland ‘really significant escalation’
- Retired Marine generals call on Schumer to compensate Beirut bombing victims
- US has intelligence Russia may have factored midterms into timing of Kherson announcement: report
- White House condemns latest Russian missile attack in Ukraine
- G-20 urges end to Ukraine war
- FBI head: China has ‘stolen more’ US data ‘than every other nation combined’
- Texas governor declares ‘invasion’ at border, moves to boost security
- FBI identifies one suspect in bomb threat calls at HBCUs
That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!