A Festering War in Europe Is Emerging as the New Normal, as Blinken Overnights in Kyiv and a Russian Drone Crashes in Romania
Nor was Romania the first to show up at this strange party.
Romania was not the first country to show up at this strange party. Its defense minister, Angel Tilvar, admitted on Wednesday that parts of an Iranian-made drone from Russia’s recent attacks on a Ukrainian port on the Danube were found on the territory of his country, a member of NATO.
The Ukrainians, though, already knew. What is going on is less a diplomatic game of charades than a further sign that, at long-term costs unknown, a festering war near the center of Europe is emerging as the new normal.
Adding to that reality is that while Secretary Blinken was ensconced in relative safety at Kyiv on Wednesday, a Russian missile struck a market in eastern Ukraine, reportedly killing 17 people and injuring at least 32 others.
In multiple and disconcerting ways, the map of Europe is beginning to resemble that of certain periods of the last century, when open hostilities scarred various regions while life went on in a modified normal elsewhere.
The affair of the Russian drone is a case of a localized incident that could have had enormous global repercussions. The reason is Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which pertains to collective defense.
Specifically, it provides that “if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.”
So a weaponized drone falling onto Romanian territory could be considered a hostile attack — unless, of course, it was an accident. In this case it seems like it was. The Shahed drone was likely used in a Russian strike on Izmail, across the Danube, on Sunday night.
That southern Ukrainian town has become a target for the Russians — indeed, it was reportedly hit again on Wednesday — since Kyiv diverted grain supply routes to its port after the non-renewal of the Black Sea grain deal.
Since Monday, Ukrainians claimed to have photographic evidence of the explosion of a Russian drone in Romania, but for two days Bucharest authorities categorically denied any incident. The country’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that if confirmed it would be a “serious violation” of Romanian sovereignty and “completely unacceptable.” So, he did not confirm it.
The Ukrainian foreign minster, Dmytro Kuleba, drew Romania a diagram of sorts. “In general, let’s be frank, there is a tendency to try not to escalate the interpretation of certain events by partners in order not to be involved in a direct conflict,” Mr. Kuleba said earlier in the week.
The head of Ukraine’s national security council, Oleksiy Danilov, went further, saying, “Bucharest puts sunglasses on and says that it does not see the arrivals of Russian drones on its territory.” In curious but stern language, he added, “Because of your fear of Russia, with your poached eggs, you will cause autocratic regimes to seize power all over the world.”
Remarks like those are what prompted, in part, Bucharest’s about-face on the issue, though no explanation was given. Mr. Tilvar stated, “It doesn’t make us happy, but we can’t talk about an attack. We must be able to distinguish between an act of aggression and an accident.”
It can be understood that de-escalation was another motivation.
Mr. Tilvar’s clarification was a crucial step in averting the risk of a forced intervention by NATO, of which Romania has been a part since 2004. While some Ukrainians may be hungry for broader escalation with Russia as a means to press their counteroffensive, that appetite is shared by few if anyone elsewhere in Europe.
The initial Romanian silence over the matter may have been in tacit acknowledgment that a similar incident has happened at least once before. On November 15, a Russian-made missile fell in the Polish village of Przewodów, near the border with Ukraine. This occurred in the course of a Russian attack on Ukrainian cities and energy facilities, but two Polish farmers were killed.
Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, and President Zelensky sounded the alarm and Poland floated the possibility of invoking Article 5, but within hours American military intelligence established that it had been an accident. While the missile was indeed of Russian production, it was determined that it had been fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft guns and crossed the border by mistake.
Back to Kyiv for a moment, where Secretary Blinken, during his visit, announced more than $1 billion of new assistance for Ukraine. His overnighter coincided with the Biden administration’s announcement of its 46th tranche of equipment to be provided from the Department of Defense’s inventories for Ukraine since August 2021.
The package includes additional air defense systems, artillery munitions, and anti-tank weapons, including depleted uranium rounds for previously committed Abrams tanks. All that equipment will bolster Ukraine’s forces.
Yet the fact that the Biden administration was regularly shipping out weapons to Ukraine for more than half a year prior to the Russian invasion — and that doing so did nothing to deter Russia — raises questions. The first one is this: For how much longer will Europeans tolerate a war, with all that implies, on their doorstep?