NATO and Poland’s leaders said there is no indication that a missile that struck Polish territory late Tuesday was an intentional Russian attack as governments in the military alliance moved to defuse the incident.
“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks,” Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, told reporters after a meeting in Brussels.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country is unlikely to invoke Article 4 of the NATO charter, which would trigger consultations on a military response.
The assessment matched that of U.S. President Joe Biden, who told allies on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia that the explosion near the Ukrainian border was caused by Kyiv’s air defenses, according to two officials familiar with the matter. The American leader still said the strike was ultimately sparked by the Russian missile barrage on Ukraine.
The findings defuse what looked to be a significant escalation in the conflict, with U.S. and European leaders grappling with a potential response if Russia’s nine-month invasion of Ukraine were to spill over to the 30-member military alliance. Ukraine was hit by the biggest barrage of missile attacks since the invasion began in February on Tuesday, knocking out power to a broad swathe of the country, including the capital Kyiv.
“Most likely, this was an unfortunate accident,” Duda told reporters in Warsaw on Wednesday. Still, “practically the entire territory of Ukraine was under bombardment, in particular the areas near the border.”
“That’s why the Russian side is definitely to blame for what happened yesterday,” he said.
The explosion killed two people at the Polish village of Przewodow, about 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the Ukrainian border. The incident sparked a flurry of diplomatic consultations from Warsaw to Bali overnight and an emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday.
The emerging theory among US officials is that the projectile was likely a Ukrainian missile – initial indications point to a Russian-made S300 – fired in response to the Kremlin’s missile attack, according to one person familiar with the investigation. The person cautioned that it’s early and not certain — and that things could change as the investigation continues.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy disputed the claim that the missile was from his military – and that he wanted to have representatives in the investigating team.
“I believe it’s a Russian missile — I believe so according to my trust in the report by the military,” Zelenskiy told reporters in Kyiv, referring to a report that he received from his commanders.
Poland’s zloty earlier rebounded from a three-week low on Biden’s remarks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised the U.S. for what he called its “restrained” and “professional” reaction to the blast in Poland, dismissing allegations that it was caused by a Russian missile as “hysterical.”
Utility services are gradually resuming in Ukraine’s regions and major cities after damage inflicted by the missile attacks. Water and heating are being supplied to customers, while power has been restored in the country’s capital Kyiv after almost half of its inhabitants were cut off, local military authorities said.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, members of the military alliance have repeatedly aired concerns about being pulled directly into the conflict. While they have supported Ukraine with weapons and financial aid, Europe and the U.S. have drawn the line at dispatching the longest range missile systems and advanced fighter jets and rebuffed Ukraine’s calls to set up an air defense zone over its airspace.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov reiterated calls for a no-fly zone to be established over the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly turning to missile strikes as his troops struggle on the ground in a war in its ninth month. His military recently withdrew from a key city in southern Ukraine that was captured early in the invasion.
(c) 2022, Bloomberg · Natalia Drozdiak, Wojciech Moskwa, Alberto Nardelli