The leaders of Poland and NATO said the missile that killed two people in Polish territory on Tuesday was likely fired by Ukrainian forces defending their country against a barrage of Russian strikes, and that the incident appeared to be an accident.
The blast occurred outside the village outside the rural eastern Polish village of Przewodow, about four miles (6.4 kilometers) west from the Ukrainian border on Tuesday afternoon, roughly the same time as Russia launched its biggest wave of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities in more than a month.
On Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda told a press conference that there was a “high chance” it was an air defense missile from the Ukrainian side and likely had fallen in Poland in “an accident” while intercepting incoming Russian missiles.
“There is no indication that this was an intentional attack on Poland. Most likely, it was a Russian-made S-300 rocket,” Duda said in a tweet earlier Wednesday.
Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have used Russian-made munitions during the conflict, including the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which Kyiv has deployed as part of its air defenses.
The incident in Poland, a NATO country, prompted ambassadors from the US-led military alliance to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels Wednesday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg too said there was no indication the incident was the result of a deliberate attack by either side, and that Ukrainian forces were not to blame for defending their country from Russia’s assault.
“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by the Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks,” Stoltenberg said. “But let me be clear, this is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
Stoltenberg also said there were no signs that Russia was planning to attack NATO countries, in comments that appeared to be intended to defuse escalating tensions.
News of the incident overnight led to a flurry of activity thousands of miles away in Indonesia, where US President Joe Biden convened an emergency meeting with some world leaders to discuss the matter on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
A joint statement following the emergency meeting at the G20 was deliberately ambiguous when it came to the incident, putting far more focus on the dozens of strikes that happened in the hours before the missile crossed into Poland.
Duda and Stoltenberg’s comments tally with those of two officials briefed on initial US assessments, who told CNN it appeared the missile was Russian-made and originated in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military told the US and allies that it attempted to intercept a Russian missile in that timeframe and near the location of the Poland missile strike, a US official told CNN. It’s not clear that this air defense missile is the same missile that struck Poland, but this information has informed the ongoing US assessment of the strike.
The National Security Council said that the US has “full confidence” in the Polish investigation into the blast and that the “party ultimately responsible” for the incident is Russia for its ongoing invasion.
But on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he did not believe that the missile was launched by his forces, and called for Ukrainian experts to play a part in the investigation. “I have no doubt that it was not our missile,” he told reporters in Kyiv.
Earlier Wednesday, a Zelensky adviser said the incident was a result of Russia’s aggression but did not explicitly deny reports that the missile could have been launched by the Ukrainian side.
“Russia has turned the eastern part of the European continent into an unpredictable battlefield. Intent, means of execution, risks, escalation – it is all coming from Russia alone,” Mykhailo Podolyak said in a statement to CNN. “And there can be no other explanation for any missile incident here. So when an aggressor country launches a deliberate, massive missile strike against a large country on the European continent with its obsolete Soviet-era weapons (Kh-class missiles), tragedy sooner or later occurs on the territories of other states as well.”
A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Air Force said on national television Wednesday that the military would “do everything” to facilitate the Polish investigation.
“What happened was the Air Defense Force repelling the air attack,” Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson for Air Force Command Ukraine, said. “What happened next – whether it was a Russian missile, or this was the wreckage of both rockets falling – this has to be inspected at the site. And that is what is happening right now.”
Earlier, Biden said that preliminary information suggested it was unlikely the missile that landed in Poland was fired from Russia, after consulting with allies at the G20 Summit in Bali.
“I don’t want to say that [it was fired from Russia] until we completely investigate,” Biden went on. “It’s unlikely in the minds of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia. But we’ll see.”
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Russia doesn’t have “any relation” with the missile incident in Poland, and that some leaders have made statements without understanding “what actually happened.”
“The Poles had every opportunity to immediately report that they were talking about the wreckage of the S-300 air defense system missile. And, accordingly, all experts would have understood that this could not be a missile that had any relation with the Russian Armed Forces,” Peskov said during a regular call with journalists.
“We have witnessed another hysterical frenzied Russophobic reaction, which was not based on any real evidence. High-ranking leaders of different countries made statements without any idea about what actually happened.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told CNN that NATO allies must “keep a cool head” in light of the incident.
“I think we really have to keep a cool head, knowing there might be a spillover effect, especially to those countries that are very close [to Ukraine],” Kallas told CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour in an interview Wednesday.
“I can’t look into their warehouses, and see what they [NATO members] actually have, but I can call on the leaders of NATO allies who have more, and say ‘please look to your storage, look to your warehouses, find things that you have, do agreements with [the] private sector who is developing equipment,’ so that we can send top equipment to Ukraine and end this war once and for all,” Kallas said.
Russia unleashed a barrage of 85 missiles on Ukraine Tuesday, predominantly targeting energy infrastructure. The bombardment caused city blackouts and knocked out power to 10 million people nationwide.
Zelensky later confirmed on Twitter that power had been restored to eight million consumers. “Supply to 8 million consumers has already been restored. Power engineers and repairmen will work all night. Thanks to everyone!”
Ukrainians across the country were expected to face further scheduled and unscheduled power cuts Wednesday.
“Massive missile strikes on November 15 on the energy infrastructure and cold weather further complicated the situation with the power system,” the state energy company NPC Ukrenergo said in a statement.
“Please prepare for longer power cuts: stock up on water, charge your devices and power banks in advance to stay in touch with your loved ones.”