Former Nato deputy chief says Russian attack near Poland 'should serve as wake-up call'

Gen Sir Richard Shirreff urges bloc to not close skies to Russia, despite pleas from Ukrainian president

An Ukrainian serviceman takes cover as people evacuate  the city of Irpin on March 13, 2022.  - Russian forces advance ever closer to the capital from the north, west and northeast.  Russian strikes also destroy an airport in the town of Vasylkiv, south of Kyiv.  A US journalist was shot dead and another wounded in Irpin, a frontline northwest suburb of Kyiv, medics and witnesses told AFP.  (Photo by Aris Messinis  /  AFP)
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A former Nato chief has said Russia's attack on a Ukrainian military base 35 kilometres from the Polish border “should serve as a wake-up call” to the military alliance about the perils that lie ahead.

Gen Sir Richard Shirreff, former Nato deputy supreme commander for Europe, slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin's “highly provocative” attack on the Yavoriv range early on Sunday that killed 35 people and wounded 134.

Gen Shirreff said the alliance should resist calls from Ukraine to impose a no-fly zone, as this would lead to “a war of national survival” for the alliance’s 30 members.

If a missile lands on Polish territory, every Nato member state “would be obliged to come to Poland’s support” and respond “very, very firmly” to the aggressor, Gen Shirreff told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The aim must be to defend Nato territory.

“We’ve got to be absolutely clear cut here. Nato cannot get engaged on the ground or in the air above Ukraine, unless the alliance has decided that it is ready for a general war with Russia, which could become a war of national survival — and I think we’re a long way short of that still,” he said.

He said it is vital for the alliance to ensure its defences are appropriate for modern warfare “to make it absolutely clear to Putin that there can be no hint of an incursion into Nato territory and any effort by Russia to step into Nato territory will be met by overwhelming force”.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is determined to “destroy the world we are living in”, Poland has warned,

The Yavoriv site, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre, had regularly been used by American and other Nato troops to train Ukrainian soldiers.

Britain's Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday declined to say whether UK forces were present at the base when the attack happened in the early hours of Sunday.

Polish Deputy Foreign minister Marcin Przydacz said Russia had openly threatened Nato by targeting a site 12 minutes’ drive from Poland.

“They surely knew where this military base was and that it’s very close to the Polish border,” he told the Today programme.

“That was the place where a couple of weeks ago and months ago exercises and training took place, conducted by the Ukrainian army and their partners from Nato.

“Of course the Russians knew what they were hitting and they wanted to threaten Nato, they wanted to threaten the people who are fleeing the country because this military base is very close to the crossing point where the refugees are crossing.”

Mr Przydacz said Mr Putin’s “highly provocative” attack on Nato’s doorstep showed President Putin’s ambitions to take his assault beyond the borders of Ukraine.

Asked if he believed Poland and other eastern European countries could appear in Mr Putin’s firing range, Mr Przydacz said: “I would say that not only including my country but several other countries.

“Vladimir Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest political tragedy of the 20th century, despite the fact there was World War II, there was the Holocaust … that shows what his psychological condition is and what his plan is and it is to rebuild somehow the position of the Soviet Union and to change the global security architecture.”

Mr Przydacz warned that Mr Putin had adopted a “very dangerous approach” towards the West and wants to model Russia to rival the US in terms of global influence.

He said all countries in the Euro-Atlantic community — not just those in eastern Europe — risk being affected by the Russian leader’s wish to “destroy the world we are living in”.

Hours after the attack on the military site, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned western leaders: “It is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory.”

He reiterated his call for Nato to impose a no-fly zone on Ukrainian skies, a plea which has been rejected multiple times by the alliance.

“If you do not close our sky, it is only a matter of time before Russian missiles fall on your territory … Nato territory … on the homes of citizens of Nato countries,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian president again urged Mr Putin to meet him directly, a request that has gone unanswered by the Kremlin.

Updated: March 14, 2022, 12:27 PM