Denial of reality after the explosion in Poland

Although Western partners blame an off-course Ukrainian anti-missile missile for the two deaths, President Zelensky insists that Russia is to blame. Kyiv believes it cannot afford to be weak.

Mild irritation among close allies: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a telephone conversation with his counterpart Joe Biden.

Ukrainian Presidential Press / Reuters

Tuesday’s impact of a missile or parts of it in the Polish border village of Przewodow showed the escalation potential of the Ukrainian war: for a while everyone was talking about the thesis of a Russian attack before it was confirmed that a probably Ukrainian interceptor missile that accidentally fell from theirs veered off course and killed two people. Western capitals are relieved that NATO is not drawn deeper into the conflict.

Only Kyiv stubbornly clung to the Russian origin of the missile. “I have no doubt that it was not our missile,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday after a meeting with the military leadership. “This contradicts the evidence,” his American counterpart and close ally Joe Biden criticized with unusual clarity. At the same time, Western leaders from Biden to Jens Stoltenberg to Giorgia Meloni have emphasized Kyiv’s right to defend itself against Russian fire and have named Moscow as the main culprit.

Small space for gray tones

But in Kiev, the irritation cannot be ignored. This is probably related to the fact that Ukraine is already experiencing Russian missile terror for the second day against critical infrastructure, which is now also targeting gas supplies. It would be better to have more determination in the supply of defense systems against this threat than to talk about the accident in Poland, so the tenor.

But there are also deeper reasons behind the Ukrainian reaction of defiance. For example, shortly before a winter full of deprivation for the population, the government is not interested in discussing possible “collateral damage” to its air defense system. In the affected cities, it is an open secret that parts of downed Russian missiles still end up in apartment buildings. But in public there is little room for such ambivalence in the face of the need to defend oneself against a brutal aggressor.

In addition, the country is deeply affected by the fear of losing foreign support and betrayal by partners. It is related to historical experiences, such as during the world wars, when Ukrainian independence was a geopolitical pawn in the hands of defeated neighbors.

The trauma from the Minsk agreements of 2015, signed under great European pressure, is fresher, which also explains today’s uncompromising stance on territorial issues. Western statements about the desirability of peace negotiations with Moscow on a “realistic” basis, especially after the liberation of Kherson, are viewed with suspicion in Kiev.

immunization against criticism

Given that Russia immediately presents any tension in the Ukrainian-American-European alliance as a possible rupture, Kyiv reacts even more sensitively. In order to immunize themselves against enemy propaganda and secure support, Ukrainians must present themselves as democratic role models and at the same time an impenetrable military defense wall. The fact that this almost superhuman statement sometimes collides with reality is evident not only in the game about the explosion in Poland.

Unlike Moscow, however, Kyiv has not forgotten how to learn from its mistakes. For example, on Thursday, Selenski no longer spoke categorically about the Russian missile that hit Przewodow. He only asked for his country’s participation in the investigation – alongside foreign partners who are likely to agree. Another primary fear of Ukrainians is the fear of throwing something over their head. Participation, on the other hand, should allow all parties to save face.

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