Last February, in the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when thousands of Ukrainian women with their children arrived in Poland to escape the war, Polish volunteers who attended them at the Przemysl station told this correspondent phrases like this: “We We will be next.” In the countries of Eastern Europe, former satellites of the Soviet Union, the Russian danger has always been more present in rulers and citizens than in Western Europe, protected in their analysis by historical and geographical distance.

In this mental context, the impact on Tuesday in Polish territory of a missile that killed two people triggered the alarm, since the Russian war against Ukraine in progress for almost nine months seemed to jump the border to enter a NATO country . The Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in agreement with the President, Andrzej Duda, urgently summoned the National Security Commission to assess a situation that was still confusing at that time. Meanwhile, Russia denied any responsibility for the explosion and accused Poland of “deliberate provocation.”

However, the tone used in Warsaw, although firm, could be described as measured. Although the Polish authorities spoke that night of a “Russian-made” missile, and at the end of the meeting the spokesperson for the Executive said that Poland was considering invoking Article 4 of NATO, on Wednesday morning, the Government was already ruling out do it. “There is no indication that the incident was an attack on Polish territory,” Morawiecki said on Wednesday, calling it “an unfortunate event, the result of which was that two Polish citizens died.”

Article 4 of the Alliance treaty, provided for when an ally considers that its “territorial integrity, political independence or security” are threatened, basically implies evacuating consultations between member countries. Even so, an urgent appointment of NATO ambassadors in Brussels was chosen, a crisis format, but more reassuring. The last time Article 4 was activated was the day Russia invaded Ukraine, February 24.

In the evening meeting of the Polish security commission, on Tuesday, there was not even a question of activating article 5 of the NATO treaty, which says that “an armed attack against one or more of them (the signatory nations), which takes place in Europe or in North America, it will be considered as an attack directed against all of them”. It is an article that, in any case, and despite the semantic power of its wording, is conceived as a deterrent against attacks rather than as a military response mechanism. Article 5 has only been used once: it was invoked by the United States in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Also the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, corroborated the Polish exercise of restraint. The explosion was not “the result of a deliberate attack,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels; there are no indications that “Russia is preparing offensive actions against the allied countries”; and everything indicates that the event was due to the Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense “to defend Ukrainian territory from missile attacks from Russia.”

Allies, including the country affected by the incident, used the language of restraint and restraint; nobody wanted it to light the fuse of an escalation. The United States, even promising to defend “every inch of the territory of the Atlantic Alliance” (words of the Defense Department press officer), already assured on Tuesday night that it had no evidence that it was a Russian missile. Later, from the G-20 summit in Bali, US President Joe Biden judged it “unlikely, due to the trajectory, that it would have been fired from Russia.”

Eastern Europe experienced the incident with relative temperance, despite the fact that the war in Ukraine feels very close. In the hours of the crisis, only the Baltic countries raised the tone. Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks tweeted: “Latvia fully supports Polish friends and condemns this crime,” without naming culprits.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did accuse Russia. But yesterday the Ukrainian armed forces told the United States that they had attempted to shoot down a Russian missile in the time frame of its impact in Poland, CNN reported. They did not specify the weapons used, but, according to the Ap agency, Ukraine still has stockpiles of Soviet and Russian manufacture, such as the S-300 air defense missile system. That would explain why Poland already spoke at the beginning of a “Russian-made” missile, which now seems to be confirmed to be Ukrainian-owned.