NATO fails the “courage test.” Helicopter invasion of Poland could have serious consequences

On the first day of August, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) faced a challenge it hadn’t seen in a long time.

Currently, NATO is failing to effectively respond to this challenge.

It is important to highlight that this challenge is not only directed at Poland alone, whose border with Belarus was violated by two military helicopters in the morning on August 1. These helicopters are formally part of the Belarusian army and bear its identification, but the main focus of observation on the reaction to this incident is not Minsk but Moscow.

For Moscow, it is crucial that this incident is not merely a violation of Poland’s border but a breach of the protected and highly regarded “NATO’s eastern flank,” whose defense was guaranteed by the United States. Furthermore, Poland is defended by American forces with high readiness as per NATO’s distribution of responsibilities. Thus, the incident on August 1, which remained unanswered without a proper response, sends a clear signal to the Kremlin: they can escalate without consequences. NATO and the USA will be limited to expressing “concern.”

After the helicopter incident in Moscow, it has become even more evident that the Alliance is willing to turn a blind eye to Russia’s actions that border on aggression, just to avoid angering the Kremlin.

Therefore, there is no doubt that Russia will continue to raise the stakes because it is allowed to do so. Thus, there will be further, even more significant provocations.

What saddens the most is that the White House is capable of acting differently. Last year in Washington, they had the courage to respond to Russian blackmail publicly and firmly, from a position of strength, and it worked — Russia backed down. This story relates to Russia’s nuclear blackmail, which was effectively curtailed.

However, for some reason, this success is not mentioned now. Instead, it seems that fear and caution have become the basis of US and NATO’s policy towards Russia.

And this is a serious problem, including for Ukraine.

Another stage of the spiral

Briefly about what happened in Poland and why it is not an isolated incident but an important stage in the escalation of confrontation between Russia and NATO.

It appears that this episode started a week ago. On July 23, the self-proclaimed president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, publicly stated during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Putin, that fighters from the Wagner Group, who have recently been deployed in Belarus, intend to violate the Polish border and make a march to Warsaw or to Lviv.

At that time, the purpose of this statement remained unclear.

Furthermore, it was unknown who was controlling the Wagner Group. Since then, there have been increasing signals that Wagner is still under Russia’s control, and Belarus, with its puppet Lukashenko, who is willing to make any statement at Moscow’s request, is just a convenient place for these militants. The public appearance of Yevgeny Prigozhin in St. Petersburg during the Russia-Africa summit added to the feeling that there has been no rupture.

On August 1, the invasion of Poland did happen, but not in the format that Lukashenko announced.

Two military helicopters with Belarusian Air Force markings — Mi-24 with the tail number “14” and Mi-8 with the number “86” — crossed the Belarusian-Polish border at a very low altitude, penetrated several kilometers into Polish territory, circled around the private sector in the town of Bialowieza, and then returned to Belarus without landing. There were numerous photos taken by local residents, making the border violation evident, although Poland initially did not acknowledge it.

Belarus continues to deny the incident, doing so in a notably impolite manner (more details below).

Can we assert that Moscow is actually behind the Belarusian helicopter incident? No, there is currently no evidence to support this, although it is not ruled out. However, regardless of who gave the command to cross the border, this story plays into the hands of the Russian side.

Recently, Russia has been actively provoking the West, primarily the United States, towards localized military confrontations.

In the second half of July, Russian military aircraft attacked US drones at least twice in the skies over Syria. Both incidents, known to the public, resulted in damage to the American MQ-9 Reaper drones in the improvised “air battle,” but they managed to return to base. These aggressive actions by Russians in the Syrian airspace followed less hostile actions that did not cause damage or loss of aircraft.

However, earlier in the spring, Russians were even more aggressive, leading to a situation where Americans lost a Reaper drone due to their attack.

See also: Poland missed a missile strike: how the Russian Kh-55 missile near the “NATO capital” undermined the country’s politics

In April, a completely different incident occurred: the remains of an X-55 missile were found in Poland, which was most likely fired towards Ukraine but deviated from its course and struck an uninhabited area in the northern part of the country.

There was also a previous incident involving a suspected violation of Romanian airspace by a Russian missile. However, there is no evidence to support this claim, and no international investigation has been conducted. Romania, based on Ukraine’s data, denied the occurrence of the incident.


These incidents — at first glance are very different.

But there is one detail that unites them: each time, the reaction of NATO member states (both the USA and Poland) has been extremely soft.

What did Poland do after the violation of its airspace by military helicopters? Initially, they tried to hide the fact and denied it throughout the day. Then, when an overwhelming amount of photo evidence emerged, making it clear that official Warsaw was not telling the truth, the Ministry of Defense acknowledged the incident. However, the only response was to summon the Belarusian ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a “short conversation.” They also added that they saw nothing special (quoting the Deputy Minister: “Such things happen in every country”).

In the USA, there were no sharp statements either, as indicated by the “non-existent” reaction of the Pentagon.

Neither Warsaw nor Washington changed their appeasing rhetoric, even in response to the impolite statement from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they rejected all accusations and characterized the claims against them with the phrase “one woman said it.”

But the saddest part is that such a reaction is not an exception but the norm.

When a Russian missile struck Poland, it was covered up until fragments were accidentally found by outsiders. Even then, there were no firm protests against Russia for this.

When a Russian fighter jet essentially shot down an American drone worth about $30 million, deliberately engaging it over the Black Sea, the US limited itself to criticizing “unprofessional piloting.” But how can it be unprofessional if Russians achieved what they wanted and destroyed the “American” drone?

The same is happening during the new attacks by Russian aircraft on American Reapers. The only thing the Pentagon dared to do was issue a statement requesting and urging (not even demanding!) Russia to “instruct its forces to comply with the laws of the sky.” As if they don’t understand that these attacks on American equipment are not the individual actions of Russian pilots but deliberate and coordinated actions, for which the perpetrators even receive state awards.

So, how should they have acted instead?

“A strong response” does not mean “World War III”

As it is known, the basis of Washington’s public position regarding actions during the Russian-Ukrainian war is the thesis that under no circumstances should this war escalate into World War III.

No one can argue with that. A direct, full-scale NATO-Russia or USA-Russia conflict is clearly an undesirable scenario for the West. But does this mean that the West, in general, and the USA, in particular, should avoid any strong actions?

Is it true that a military response to provocations would be the beginning of a war between Russia and NATO?

No, it’s not true. History has repeatedly proven otherwise.

On the contrary, a strong response to violations is necessary precisely to make the opponent return to the rules and to prevent escalation from becoming uncontrolled and leading to open confrontation.

Even during the most intense periods of the Cold War, there were numerous incidents when the USA/NATO and the USSR shot down each other’s planes and sank each other’s ships, accidentally crossing borders.

Even in the times of the USSR, recently, relations between the Alliance (presumably NATO) and Russia went through a similar incident. In November 2015, a Turkish Air Force F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24 aircraft that briefly entered Turkish airspace from Syria. One of the Russian pilots was killed. Despite the incident occurring when Russian Su-24, as believed, was already back over Syrian territory, the Alliance unanimously supported the legitimacy of the actions taken by the Turkish Air Force.

Did this lead to a new world war? No.

The Russian military response to this incident was simply absent. Absolutely. In Moscow, they only resorted to economic and political sanctions against the Turks (refusal of Turkish vegetables, cancellation of the tourist season, etc.). But that’s a different story. Besides, the so-called “Russian sanctions” against the West now sound like a joke: even countries like Poland or the USA would only thank Moscow if it further isolates its economy from the West.

See also: Ukraine will be substituted for NATO membership. We must take strong unexpected steps

On the other hand, there is a response that can influence Russia, and the USA has already used it once. Quite successfully.

This refers to an incident from last year when Putin and his inner circle resorted to nuclear blackmail after several military defeats of Russia in Ukraine. At that time, statements hinting at the use of weapons were even made by the Russian president himself, and his propagandists like Medvedev and Russian talk show hosts directly announced nuclear retaliation.

Then, Washington finally dared to respond firmly and warned the Kremlin about “catastrophic” consequences. Later, details of that warning were also leaked to the press: the Kremlin was cautioned that if it were to use any nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the USA would retaliate with a conventional (non-nuclear) strike on Russia that would destroy the Black Sea Fleet bases.

And it worked. The “nuclear” statements from the Kremlin instantly ceased, and Putin’s spokesperson began to claim that the president’s words were misunderstood.

And there’s nothing surprising about this.

This is the essence of Putin’s power, which now knows very well how weak it is compared to Western countries. Putin fears real confrontation with the West, understanding that he would inevitably lose — that’s why a strong response from the West stops him.

That’s why even now, and in the history of incidents with downed drones, it would have been much more logical and effective to issue a stern and specific warning. And in the event of further attacks, to implement it. Losing a fighter jet that attacks an American drone would teach Russia a valuable lesson.

Unfortunately, the West has not understood this and does not engage in dialogue from a position of strength but instead sets traps for itself. By responding softly and spinelessly, the USA and the Alliance as a whole show that they are afraid of Russia, that they are not ready to act, and thereby invite Putin to raise the stakes.

Against this backdrop, new provocations become inevitable. And a military campaign by the same Wagner Group to Rzeszów or the Kaliningrad region via the territory of Poland and Lithuania seems less and less like an impossible scenario.

Originally posted by Sergiy Sydorenko on European Pravda. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Lukashenko intimidates with Wagner Group: how Poland is preparing for military provocations from Belarus

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