Poland strike: Cyprus-like incident or incorrect co-ordinates in the frame

Ukraine air defence missile fired at Russian cruise missile comes down across border or Russian planners entered wrong GPS digits, analyst tells The National

Police officers near the blast site in Przewodow, Poland, November 16, 2022. Russia denies that its missiles hit the Nato member state. Getty Images
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The missile strike on Poland is a potential repeat of a similar incident when a Syrian air defence weapon struck Cyprus after it was fired at Israeli jet fighters, security experts told The National.

But Polish security sources have also suggested that Russian mission planners may have entered the wrong GPS co-ordinates for the missile, which would have sent it just inside Poland, very close to the village struck.

Debris, possibly from a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile, was found at Przewodow when it came down with its warhead still intact after failing to strike the incoming cruise missile.

The event is not dissimilar to an incident in 2019 when Syrian air defences fired surface-to-air missiles at an incoming Israeli air force attack.

One of the S-200 weapons, which has a range of 300km, missed and continued flying until it struck a mountainside 20km north of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.

“The available evidence points to this being a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile fired close to the border at incoming Russian cruise but it has not detonated and the warhead unfortunately landed in Poland,” said Tom Bullock, an expert at the Atreides intelligence company. “These things have to come down, and Syrian SAMs did land in Cyprus following Israeli attacks.”

The incident happened 60km north of the western Ukraine city of Lviv, which has has strong missile air defences after previous attacks. The S-300 could have launched from Lviv aimed at the cruise missile to the north, missed and come down on Przewodow, killing the two civilians.

But there is also be another explanation, Polish security sources told The National.

Russia fired an estimated 100 cruise missiles at Ukraine on Tuesday, most probably air launched by bombers in Russian airspace.

The missiles were a package of Kh-101, Kh-55 and Kalibr with ranges varying from 1,500km to 2,500km carrying 500kg warheads.

Intelligence analysis suggests that the global positioning satellite [GPS] co-ordinates may have been incorrectly entered, conflating Kyiv and Lviv.

“Central Kyiv has the co-ordinates of 50.4501° N, 30.5234°E and central Lviv’s are 49.8429° N, 24.0311° E,” the source told The National. “Our co-ordinates for where the missile landed are 50.4501° N, 24.0311° E, just seven kilometres east of Przewodow. Therefore it is possible the incompetent Russian planners mixed up the co-ordinates, entering Kyiv’s northings and Lviv’s eastings into their guidance system.”

Another theory is that the harsh sanctions against Russia could have led to their depleted cruise missile inventory using defective or old computer microchips for guidance.

Nuclear weapon expert Hamish de Breton Gordon said that whatever the cause, the incident demonstrated that the conflict meant that “we are a miscalculation or misjudgement away from a potential disaster”.

“The bottom line is if Russia had not fired 100 cruise missiles on Ukraine yesterday we wouldn't be talking about two dead people in Poland,” he added.

He also suggested that Nato would now be refining its response if it was found Russia was resposnible for the attack, potentially invoking Article 5 of the alliance’s collective defence, that an attack on one is an attack on all.

Updated: November 16, 2022, 11:33 AM