The crash of a Ukrainian-originating drone in Croatia exposed NATO’s vulnerabilities

Updated: Apr 21

NATO isn’t truly guaranteeing its members' security interests like it claims is its purpose otherwise someone or another would have tried shooting down that mysterious drone that’s now known to have been armed with explosives.

Instead, the bloc let it fly through the airspace of three separate member states prior to crashing and thankfully not killing anyone. It’s presently unclear exactly why this sequence of events unfolded as it did.

A Ukrainian-originating drone that authorities now claim was armed with explosives scandalously crashed in Croatia late last week without any attempts being made to intercept it. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic criticized his country’s NATO allies, declaring that “This was a pure and clear threat and both NATO and the EU should have reacted.” Quite clearly, this incident exposed NATO’s vulnerabilities, namely its inability to defend its member states’ airspace from violations by potentially hostile forces. It remains unclear whether the drone was Ukraine’s or Russia’s, though indications suggest that it was likely the former’s but nothing’s been confirmed at the time of publication.

The reported flight path that the drone took before crashing was that it supposedly entered Romanian airspace for three minutes prior to passing through Hungary’s for a whopping 40 minutes before ultimately crashing in Croatia after 6-7 minutes in its airspace. Three NATO countries therefore had the chance to at least shoot it down in theory though none of them attempted to do so despite their air defenses presumably being on higher alert due to the Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, which borders both Romania and Hungary. This means that the anti-Russian bloc’s pertinent defenses aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be in this part of Europe.

In other words, NATO isn’t truly guaranteeing their security interests like it claims is its purpose otherwise someone or another would have tried shooting down that mysterious drone that’s now known to have been armed with explosives. Instead, the bloc let it fly through the airspace of three separate member states prior to crashing and thankfully not killing anyone. It’s presently unclear exactly why this sequence of events unfolded as it did. One explanation is that those three countries lack the capabilities to promptly identify, target, and shoot at incoming drones while another might be that some of them panicked and simply chose not to act out of fear of “escalating” the situation.

40 minutes is a very long time for the drone to have lingered in Hungarian airspace though so that country is the one that has the most to account for when it comes to investigating exactly what happened and why. If the drone was Ukrainian like many suspect, then Kiev might have informed its NATO partners of some “technical problem” that drove it off course and asked them not to shoot it down since it could have claimed that it wasn’t armed and/or didn’t pose a threat. Kiev might also have been clandestinely working with those NATO countries to find a way to safely help it land inside their territory, though if that was the case, then this plan failed since it ended up crashing in Croatia.

That explanation would be the most “face-saving” one even if its veracity can’t be independently determined, but it would also raise questions about why the public wasn’t made aware of this “technical problem” and told to shelter in place in order to not be injured if the drone crashed like it ultimately did. This means that such an interpretation of events likely won’t be made public even if that’s indeed what happened since the people might become incensed that they were kept ignorant of this sudden security issue and thus unknowingly continued risking their lives by going about their daily business as if nothing was happening. At this sensitive moment in time, NATO can’t risk provoking anger against the bloc.

In any case, this incident shows that all isn’t as it seems when it comes to NATO’s Balkan air defenses. This is either a blind spot for the anti-Russian bloc’s capabilities or there was some secret coordination between its members (perhaps orchestrated by their US patron) not to shoot down the incoming drone in order to try helping it land safely despite that possibility being very dangerous for the public. Whatever the truth may be, there’s no denying that this scandal exposed NATO’s vulnerabilities in one way or another, though the people who this most directly affects will either remain ignorant of this observation or feel pressured by their increasingly authoritarian governments into not doing anything.

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