By Alexander Rubinstein / The Grayzone
A missile that exploded on Polish soil on November 15 killed two civilians and destroyed farm equipment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Western corporate media rushed to blame the explosion on Russia in apparent hopes of triggering NATO’s Article 5, which requires NATO states to defend one another militarily when attacked by a hostile force.
Polish and NATO members including US President Joseph Biden have since confirmed the missile that struck Poland was, in fact, a Ukrainian S-300 anti-aircraft missile. Yet Zelensky is sticking to his line, blaming Russia for the strike, while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg still insists that “Russia bears ultimate responsibility.” Meanwhile, the media outlets that reflexively pointed the finger at Russia have been forced to take a step back from their initial reporting.
“Russian missiles hit Poland, the territory of our friendly country. People died,” Zelensky insisted on November 15, the night of the attack. “The longer Russia feels impunity, the more threats there will be to anyone within reach of Russian missiles. To fire missiles at NATO territory! This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”
Zelensky held firm the following day, despite mounting evidence that his own country’s air defenses were responsible, declaring “I have no doubt that this is not our missile… I believe that this was a Russian missile, based on our military reports.” By this time, most analysts rejected the Ukrainian president’s assessment, including the founder of the US government-sponsored intelligence cutout Bellingcat, who wrote “At this point I think it’s fair anyone saying that a Russian missile hit Poland based on the current evidence is being irresponsible.”
A Russian attack on NATO member Poland could have triggered Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which compels its member states to consider “an attack against one Ally” to be “an attack against all Allies.” Such a mobilization would have amounted to World War III.
Despite the clear risk of such a catastrophic escalation – or perhaps because of it – Western corporate media immediately blamed Russia for the strike, never even posing the question of why Russia would consider Polish farmland such an important military target that it would be willing to risk a full-scale war with the 30-member NATO alliance.
Initially, the Associated Press ran with the headline “Russian missiles cross into Poland during strike on Ukraine.” The article cited a “senior US intelligence official,” and later, “a second person.”
On November 16, AP began redirecting the link to its original article to a correction that stated, “The Associated Press reported erroneously, based on information from a senior American intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity, that Russian missiles had crossed into Poland and killed two people. Subsequent reporting showed that the missiles were Russian-made and most likely fired by Ukraine in defense against a Russian attack.”
Time Magazine ran with the headline, “Russian Missiles Cross Into Poland During Strike, Killing Two,” and cited the AP report.
Fox News similarly announced, “Russian missiles cross into NATO member Poland, kill 2: senior US intelligence official, citing the Associated Press. MSNBC also blamed a “Russian missile” for the strike in its headline.
Then there was CNN, which reported, “Poland says Russian-made missile killed two, will consider invoking NATO Article 4.” NATO Article 4 deals with the meetings between NATO states that are to take place in the event one of them is “threatened” and would theoretically precede any invocation of Article 5. Like CNN, Reuters cited the Polish Foreign Ministry and ran the headline, “Poland says Russian rocket hit its territory as NATO weighs response.”
The New York Times stated in the second sentence of its report on the missile strike that “the blast came as Russia fired roughly 90 missiles into Ukraine.” Two lines later, the Times stated “local media suggests a Russian missile strike.” Readers of the paper of record would have to scroll down several times to even read that Russian officials denied responsibility.
Earlier in the war, in an article on “Ukraine’s online propaganda,” the New York Times sought to downplay the Ukrainian government’s penchant for pushing fake news, arguing that Kiev’s information war merely “dramatize[s] tales of Ukrainian fortitude and Russian aggression.” The article quoted an unnamed Twitter user, who wrote, “Why can’t we just let people believe some things? … If the Russians believe it, it brings fear. If the Ukrainians believe it, it gives them hope.”
The US media’s support for Ukraine’s propaganda efforts meant that it covered some of the most suspicious events without a hint of skepticism, and thereby encouraged more.
These questionable incidents included the following:
- On March 8, Western media reported that a Mariupol maternity hospital was attacked by Russian aircraft. Zelensky claimed the attack was evidence of Russian “genocide” against Ukraine. However, a key witness – a pregnant woman in the hospital photographed by AP – stated that no such airstrike occurred, and that nearby explosions were caused by Ukrainian artillery shells.
- On March 16, the Ukrainian government blamed a targeted Russian airstrike for destroying the Mariupol Dramatic Theater and causing anywhere from 300 to 600 deaths. Western corporate media promoted the Ukrainian narrative of the event despite a total absence of footage showing a missile strike, no images or evidence of large numbers of dead civilians inside, no images or evidence of any attempted rescue, and testimony by Mariupol locals asserting the Azov Battalion fighters that controlled the theater’s grounds staged the explosion to provoke NATO military intervention. Photographic evidence showed that Azov fighters removed all vehicles from the theater’s parking lot one day before the explosion.
- The Kramatorsk train station bombing that was blamed on Russia despite the fact the Tochka-U missile responsible for the blast contained a serial number matching others in Ukraine’s arsenal and originated from Ukrainian-controlled territory.
As the war grinds on, elements in the Biden administration appear to be growing impatient with the tall tales of their Ukrainian clients. “This is getting ridiculous,” an unnamed NATO official told the Financial Times on November 16. “The Ukrainians are destroying our confidence and they are openly lying. This is more destructive than the missile.”