The war started by Russia has once again reached NATO territory. After more than a day of denials, the Romanian authorities finally admitted that parts of a Russian drone landed on their soil on Monday night, Agnė Černiauskaitė and Agnė Liubertaitė says in lrytas.lt
While experts agree that Bucharest has avoided making immediate statements because it does not want to escalate the incident and get directly involved in the war, there are diverging views on responding to such Russian actions.
First denied, then later confirmed
Overnight from Sunday to Monday, Russia shelled a Ukrainian port on the Danube River, close to the Romanian border. The Ukrainians reported that 17 drones were shot down in the Odessa region during the attack and that one of the” Shahed” drones crashed and exploded on Romanian territory.
With the Romanian government remaining silent, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pointed out on Monday that Ukraine has photos to prove it.
“It’s pointless to deny that something crashed there. We state with authority and evidence that “Shahed” drones landed there. We have photographs proving that something crashed there”, Kuleba said.
He said that the Romanian authorities had decided to wait to investigate the situation thoroughly and to draw conclusions. The Minister also said, “there is a tendency not to escalate certain events so that the partners do not get into a direct conflict”.
However, under pressure, Romania finally admitted on Wednesday that parts of the drone had been found on its territory, reassuring that no evacuation of the population had been carried out, as the parts found were unlikely to pose a threat.
This is not the first time that war has crossed Ukraine’s borders. Last November, a Ukrainian air defence missile fell in Poland in pursuit of Russian missiles and drones, killing two residents.
Debris from several other missiles suspected to have been fired by Russia into Ukraine has also been discovered in the forests along the Polish border with Ukraine.
Jeglinskas: the war is changing
Giedrimas Jeglinskas, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, when asked why Romania did not immediately acknowledge that the drone debris had been found on its territory, said that there could be various reasons. However, he said, it was clear that no NATO member country would want to get involved in a war with Russia today.
“I think that all NATO countries, whether they are right on the border of Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, or further away, do not have the desire and probably not even the willingness to get fully involved in a war.
I cannot comment on what that pressure was about because it is perhaps a decision for the Romanian side alone as to why it happened – whether they did not have enough information, whether it was unconfirmed, whether it was a Russian or a Ukrainian drone.
Many questions can be hidden behind such denial, but it shows that war is a thing that can unexpectedly lead to all sorts of incidents. Perhaps there is nothing unexpected about it happening. We must monitor the situation, maintain our positions and make the right decisions when such things happen,” Jeglinskas told lrytas.lt.
The former NATO Deputy Secretary General recalled that so far, all NATO leaders have firmly declared that they will defend “every inch of NATO” if it is directly threatened, and they are not backing down. He said there was no direct threat to a NATO country.
“What does this mean? That any invasion, any aggression on its territory will be defended, and what has happened, probably the analysis and the whole investigation has taken place, and it has been very clearly established that it was not intentional. This is clear, and NATO’s position is clear that no one will go to war with Russia unless the integrity of the territory is violated,” Jeglinskas noted.
According to him, the Alliance reacts immediately in case of any similar incident, as it did in November when a missile fell on Polish territory.
“Consultations are certainly taking place, and they are taking place immediately after such an incident is recorded. Of course, the responsibility for that investigation lies with the country where it took place, but nobody is left alone, and consultations are held at the NATO level.
This shows, in general, that warfare is changing and that drones are not just a daily occurrence but a necessity. There are anti-drone systems and decisions on acquiring anti-aircraft; anti-drone systems are being absorbed into budgets, and capabilities are being increased.
This is a lesson for all of us, and we should learn from it, identify what is going on, and there are various measures to avoid it, and we need to invest in them,” Jeglinskas said.
Ukraine’s desire is clear
However, the former NATO Deputy Secretary General acknowledges that Ukraine, by stressing from the outset that the incident was recorded on the territory of a state belonging to the Alliance, is seeking NATO’s direct involvement in the ongoing war.
“I think anyone who is logically thinking, who follows the events in Ukraine, who sees the dynamics between Ukraine and the West, probably understands that Ukraine would like to have more capabilities, would like NATO to get involved, would like to have troops and capabilities to come in and to be able to defeat Russia and to push it out of its territory. I believe this is what Ukraine would like and would like, but that is not true.
The NATO consensus is apparent; all the countries agree on this, and we saw the decisions at the NATO summit in Vilnius. It may not be an ideal situation, but it is – NATO has its position, and we are part of it, so we must stick together,” Jeglinskas commented.
Asked whether such a reaction by the Alliance to similar incidents would not provoke more resentment against Ukraine from Western countries, the expert considered that this situation reveals a fundamental point – NATO membership is necessary.
“It only shows that the ambition to become a member of NATO is even greater. They are doing what they can do, and they have a say because they want more involvement. I think this should motivate the Ukrainians to continue to seek that membership. And the NATO allies have clarified that Ukraine will be a member.
I understand that the text of the memorandum is not very ambitious and not what we had hoped for, but it was a step forward. I think that these incidents and the course of the war show that Ukraine needs to be in NATO – it is the only guarantee of security, not only for Ukraine but also for Europe as a whole”, explained the Atlantic Council Senior Fellow.
He said the incident also provides an opportunity for Ukraine to convene a NATO-Ukraine Council and “sort things out behind closed doors”.
“The Council can be convened by any Alliance country or by Ukraine. It is up to them to decide whether this is the format that is needed at the moment. It is difficult to say whether it will be convened, but it is one of the tools already approved in Vilnius.
It gives Ukraine the right to sit at the table not as a guest, but as an equal partner, sitting in the alphabetical order rather than as a guest”, said Mr Jeglinskas.
Linkevičius: there must be a response
Former Foreign Minister and Ambassador for Special Duties Linas Linkevičius, for his part, believes that Romania has delayed confirming the incident for fear of having to demonstrate a response.
“If there were a targeted attack on NATO territory, it would be more complicated because it would be necessary to react correctly. Apparently, debris was falling here, but it was also quite sensitive, so they delayed comment. Acknowledging that NATO territory has been attacked would mean a military response. And nobody would want such a confrontation”, Linkevičius told lrytas.lt.
He suggested that the Romanians might have consulted with other NATO member states on how to proceed before giving the official confirmation. Even if it was not a targeted attack, the ambassador believes there must be a response to Russia, not a military one.
“In my opinion, there must be a powerful response. You mentioned the deaths in Poland, but there was also the case where the remains of a missile were found on Polish territory. It was unclear whether it was a Russian or Ukrainian missile, but there was also a similar incident and discussion.
In this case, the attacks occurred less than a kilometre from the Romanian border. This can no longer be called negligence. This is irresponsibility, an open, brazen provocation”, Linkevičius stressed.
NATO has already ignored too many unprecedented incidents, he said, and the Russians will continue to test the limits of the Alliance’s patience if they are not held accountable.
“We have overlooked too many similar cases. I will remind you that when the Kakhovka power plant was blown up, it was one of the biggest humanitarian disasters, and, in general, it was an extraordinary and unprecedented event against such a facility. There was practically no indirect response.
If this happens again, we will have more bold ‘surprises’. The Russians are testing the situation, and if they see that it is possible to behave this way, they will continue to do the same as they have done so far”, Linkevičius warned.
The ambassador pointed out that although this incident probably reflected Russian unprofessionalism, no one can deny that it could not have been a special provocation.
“If there are military actions, attacks, missiles used less than a kilometre from the territory of a NATO country, it is difficult to call it anything other than a lack of common sense or a deliberate act. I would like to question that. It is a complete lack of control of the situation and, at best, unprofessionalism. But perhaps they were testing, especially since it was not the first time”, he said.
Linkevičius agrees that the details of the drones on NATO territory give grounds to consider a meeting between the Alliance and the Ukrainian Council.
“Of course, NATO will discuss this – in the military leadership, but also at the political level”, he concluded.