‘No indication’ that missile that hit Poland was an ‘attack’ but NATO says Russia is to blame as it strikes Ukraine
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday there was “no indication” that a a missile that fell in Polandkilling two people on Tuesday was the result of a deliberate attack by Russia, “and we have no indication that Russia is planning offensive military action against NATO allies.”
“I think this demonstrates the dangers associated with the ongoing war in Ukraine, but it has not changed our fundamental assessment of the threat against NATO allies,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday after a meeting of NATO ambassadors.
He said preliminary findings showed it was likely the missile was a Ukrainian air defense missile, but that “Russia bears responsibility for what happened yesterday in Poland” because it was a “direct result” of ongoing Russian attacks on Ukraine.
Poland is a member of NATO, so if the missile strike was a hostile attack by Russia, it could have prompted a response from allies under the collective defense treaty that underpins the transatlantic military alliance, including the United States.
The origin of the missile that struck Polish territory on Tuesday night has not been confirmed, but by Wednesday both US and Polish leaders indicated it was unlikely to have been fired by Russia.
President Biden joined other Western leaders in calling for a full investigation into the strike, but said he believed the missile was unlikely to have been launched by Russia based on preliminary evidence of its trajectory and that it could instead have been the result of a Ukrainian intercepting or attempting to intercept a Russian attack.
“We’ll see,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday. “I’ll make sure we find out exactly what happened.”
When he arrived at the White House very early Thursday, reporters asked the president about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s claims that the missile was not Ukrainian. Mr Biden replied: “That’s not the evidence.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda echoed Mr Biden’s assessment on Wednesday morning, saying it was most likely a Ukrainian missile that fell by accident right on Polish territory, near the border with Ukraine. He said it did not appear to be a “deliberate attack” by Russia.
The Polish president repeated his remarks from the previous day, saying he and his allies were “acting calmly” because “this is a difficult situation”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed, telling reporters at a briefing on Wednesday: “We have seen nothing to contradict President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately it fell in Poland.” Like other Western leaders, Austin also said that “Russia bears the ultimate responsibility for this incident.”
The secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine called on social networks to “jointly investigate” the incident. He said Ukraine expected to be able to review the evidence for any conclusion that the missile that fell in Poland was a Ukrainian air defense system, and asked that Ukrainian officials be given access to the site.
Zelensky said later Wednesday that he believed reports he had received from Ukraine’s air force that the missile was not Ukrainian. He also called on Ukraine to be allowed to visit the site in Poland.
“I have no doubt in the Air Force report that it was not our missile and it was not our missile strike. I have no reason not to believe them. I went through the war with them,” Zelensky said at a press conference. “Do we have the right to participate in the investigation team?” Of course.
Polish investigators were hard at work in the missile crater earlier on Wednesday and had set up a police cordon several meters away, BBC News’ Dan Johnson reported from the scene. Residents of the area, which is only about 10 miles from the Ukrainian border, have been nervous that the war could spill over into their community since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on Feb. 24, Johnson noted.
Russia fired more than 90 missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities on Tuesday, plunging ten million households into darkness, the Ukrainian government said. It was the largest single missile barrage Russia had fired during the war.
“This is a Russian missile attack against collective security,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”
The Kremlin denied responsibility for the missile landing in Poland and called the reaction of European leaders “hysterical”, while noting the “restrained and much more professional” US response.
Pushing for a thorough investigation, Western leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Richie Sunak said Russia bore ultimate responsibility for the missile landing in Poland.
“This would not have happened without the Russian war against Ukraine, without the missiles that are now being fired at Ukrainian infrastructure intensively and on a large scale,” Scholz said.
“This is the cruel and merciless reality of Putin’s war,” Sunak said.
CBS News correspondent Chris Livesey contributed to this report.
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