Military commanders from NATO countries are working the phones with their Russian counterparts to make sure the U.S. and its allies don’t get dragged into a war over a misunderstanding on the Ukrainian border.
In the past 24 hours, Russian missiles landed near Lviv, the city in western Ukraine that has been a gathering point for people fleeing the conflict. At the weekend Russia hit a military facility in the region about 22 miles from Poland and last week a reconnaissance drone darted through several eastern European countries before crashing in the Croatian capital Zagreb.
Western officials are worried that a more serious episode – if say a Russian missile struck NATO territory – could trigger an escalation and bring them into conflict with Russia.
A clash between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers is the nightmare scenario that military planners have worked to avoid since the Soviet Union acquired its first atom bomb at the start of the Cold War. The invasion of Ukraine has brought such a prospect into the calculations of leaders on both sides for the first time in a generation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his nuclear forces on high alert at the end of February and has warned NATO not to interfere in Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said repeatedly that the U.S. is ready to defend any incursion by Russia into NATO territory.
But officials say they don’t want to stumble into a conflict just because someone made a mistake.