Poland’s Foreign Ministry said early Wednesday that a Russian-made missile fell in the eastern part of the country near the Ukrainian border, killing two people. If verified, the blast would mark the first time in the war with Ukraine that Russian weapons came down on a NATO country.
Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy decried the explosion on Tuesday afternoon as “a very significant escalation” of the war.
Serious questions about the explosion remain, including who fired the missile. Russia denied any involvement.
The Polish government said it was investigating and raising its level of military preparedness. U.S. President Joe Biden pledged support for the investigation.
The Polish ministry said in a statement that Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau summoned the Russian ambassador and “demanded immediate detailed explanations.”
Polish government spokesperson Piotr Mueller said earlier some military units were put on alert while officials sought details.
Following the Foreign Ministry’s statement, Polish President Andrzej Duda struck a more cautious tone when speaking with reporters.
“We do not have any conclusive evidence at the moment as to who launched this missile…. It was most likely a Russian-made missile, but this is all still under investigation at the moment,” he said.
Polish media reported that the blast was in an area where grain was drying in Przewodow, a village near the border with Ukraine.
The Russian Defence Ministry denied being behind “any strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border” and said in a statement that photos of purported damage “have nothing to do” with Russian weapons.
It described the allegations as “a deliberate provocation aimed at escalating the situation.”
NATO ambassadors to meet
Biden said it was “unlikely” that the missile was fired from Russia, but he convened an emergency meeting of the Group of Seven and NATO leaders who were in Indonesia for another summit. It was not immediately clear whether Biden was suggesting that the missile hadn’t been fired by Russia at all.
Biden’s decision to convene that meeting upended schedules for the final day of the Group of 20 meeting in Indonesia.
On Tuesday, Russia pounded Ukraine’s energy facilities with its biggest barrage of missiles yet, striking targets across the country and causing widespread blackouts.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called an emergency meeting for later Wednesday of the alliance’s envoys to discuss the events in Poland.
Duda said that it was very likely that Poland would request consultations under Article 4 of the NATO military alliance.
According to Article 4, members can raise any issue of concern, especially related to the security of a member country.
“Our ambassador will be attending the meeting of the North Atlantic Council tomorrow at 10 a.m. at NATO headquarters…. It is highly likely that the ambassador will request the activation of Article 4, or allied consultations,” he said.
The UN Security Council also planned to meet Wednesday for a previously scheduled briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The events in Poland was certain to be raised.
In their statements, Poland and NATO used language that suggested they were not treating the missile blast as a Russian attack, at least for now.
Poland’s statement did not address the circumstances of the strike, including whether it could have been a targeting error or if the missile could have been knocked off course by Ukrainian defences. A NATO statement called it a “tragic incident.”
If Russia had deliberately targeted Poland, it would risk drawing the 30-nation alliance into the conflict at a time when it is already struggling to fend off Ukrainian forces.
Canada following situation ‘very closely’
The incident could also raise questions about the use of NATO’s Article 5, under which an attack on one alliance member is considered an attack against them all. It calls on the alliance members to assist the attacked country by taking “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.”
However, each country has no obligation to respond militarily.
Poland held emergency talks with some of its NATO allies on Tuesday after the explosion.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who is attending a G20 summit in Indonesia, said Canada is “in contact with Poland as well as with our partners” as she expressed her condolences.
Asked by a reporter if Canada believes the situation triggers Article 5, she said, “We are following the situation very closely and of course we will be having important meetings today with allies.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement he had spoken with Duda and that the alliance is monitoring the situation. It was “important that all facts are established,” he said.
The White House said Biden had offered Duda “deep condolences” for the loss of life, and full U.S. support with the investigation.
Ukraine decries ‘Russian missile terror’
In Ukraine, Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he had a call with his Polish counterpart and “expressed condolences over the death of Polish citizens from Russian missile terror.”
He had addressed the explosion in his nightly video address earlier, saying: “The longer Russia feels impunity, the more threats there will be to anyone within reach of Russian missiles.”
“To fire missiles at NATO territory! This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also took to Twitter to deny what he called a Russian “conspiracy theory” that it was a Ukrainian air defence missile that struck Poland.
Russia now promotes a conspiracy theory that it was allegedly a missile of Ukrainian air defense that fell on the Polish theory. Which is not true. No one should buy Russian propaganda or amplify its messages. This lesson should have been long learnt since the downing of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MH17?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MH17</a>.
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