Poland and NATO say missile strike was not a Russian attack

PRZEWODOW, Poland (AP) — NATO member Poland and the military alliance chief both said Wednesday that a missile strike in Polish farmland that killed two people appeared to be unintentional and was probably launched by the air defenses of neighboring Ukraine. Russia bombed Ukraine at the time in an attack that trashed its power grid.

“The Ukrainian defense was launching its missiles in different directions, and it is very likely that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said. “Nothing, absolutely nothing, suggests that this was an intentional attack on Poland.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a meeting of the 30 nation army alliance in Brussels, echoed the Polish preliminary conclusions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, disputed them and called for further investigation.

Assessments of Tuesday’s deadly missile landing appeared to reduce the likelihood of the strike triggering another major escalation in nearly all of the Russian invasion of Ukraine 9 months ago. If Russia had targeted Poland, it could have risked dragging NATO into the conflict.

Yet Stoltenberg and others blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war broadly but not specifically.

“It’s not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears the ultimate responsibility,” Stoltenberg said.

Zelenskyy told reporters he had “no doubt” about a report he had received from his top commanders “that this was not our missile or our missile strike”. Ukrainian officials should have access to the site and participate in the investigation, he added.

“Let’s say openly, if, God forbid, a remnant (of Ukraine’s air defenses) killed a person, these people, then we have to apologize,” he said. “But first there has to be a probe, an access – we want to get the data you have.”

On Tuesday, he called the strike “a very significant escalation”.

Ahead of Poland and NATO assessments, US President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” Russia would fire the missile, but added: “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened”.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman in Moscow said no Russian strikes were within 35 kilometers (22 miles) of the Ukraine-Poland border on Tuesday. The Kremlin denounced the initial response from Poland and other countries and, in rare praise for a US leader, hailed Biden’s “restrained and much more professional reaction”.

“We saw another hysterical, frantic and Russophobic reaction that was not based on any real data,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Later Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish ambassador to Moscow; the discussion would have lasted about 20 minutes.

The Polish president said the missile was likely a Russian-made S-300 from the Soviet era. Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, has Soviet and Russian-made weapons and has also seized many other Russian weapons while repelling invading Kremlin forces.

Russia’s assault on power generation and transmission facilities on Tuesday included the western region of Ukraine bordering Poland. The Ukrainian military said 77 of the more than 90 missiles fired were shot down by air defenses, along with 11 drones.

The bombardment of the whole country by cruise missiles and explosive drones clouded the initial picture of what happened in Poland.

“It was a huge explosion, the sound was terrifying.” said Ewa Byra, principal of the primary school in the eastern village of Przewodow, where the missile hit. She said she knew the two men who were killed – one was the husband of a school employee, the other the father of a former student.

Another resident, Kinga Kancir, 24, said the men worked at a grain drying facility.

“It’s very hard to accept,” she says. “Nothing was happening and all of a sudden there’s a worldwide sensation.”

In Europe, NATO members called for a thorough investigation and criticized Moscow.

“This would not have happened without the Russian war against Ukraine, without the missiles which are currently being fired intensively and on a large scale at Ukrainian infrastructure,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Whole swathes of Ukraine were without electricity after the aerial assault. Zelenskyy said around 10 million people lost power, but tweeted overnight that 8 million were later reconnected. Previous strikes had already destroyed around 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure.

Ukraine said the bombardment was the largest on its power grid so far.

A Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said Ukraine’s downing of so many Russian missiles on Tuesday “exemplifies the improvement in Ukrainian air defenses over the past month”, which are reinforced by systems provided by the West. Sweden said on Wednesday that an air defense system with munitions would be part of its latest and largest $360 million military and humanitarian aid package to Ukraine.

The United States has been Ukraine’s biggest supporter, providing $18.6 billion in weapons and equipment. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the flow of arms and assistance would continue “through the winter so that Ukraine can continue to consolidate its gains and seize the initiative on the battlefield”.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he tried to speak to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, but those efforts were unsuccessful. Milley did not elaborate on the efforts, but the lack of conversation, at a time of speculation about whether Russia had struck a NATO ally, raises concerns about high-level US-Russian communications in case of crisis.

At the United Nations, the organization’s political chief said the missile strike in Poland was “a chilling reminder” of the need to prevent any further escalation of war.

As long as the fighting continues, Rosemary DiCarlo warned the UN Security Council, “the risks of a potentially catastrophic spillover remain all too real.”

The Russian attacks followed days of euphoria in Ukraine sparked by one of its greatest military successes – last week’s recapture of the southern city of Kherson.

With its battlefield losses mounting, Russia is increasingly relying on the Ukrainian power grid as winter approaches.

Russian attacks in the past 24 hours have killed at least six civilians and injured 17 others, senior official Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Wednesday.

Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytskyy said two of the three Russian missiles hit critical energy infrastructure in the western province. Electricity has been restored to about 95% of the province, he said, but only 30% of consumers can use electricity at the same time.

Power outages caused major train delays through Wednesday, but there was no cancellation because diesel locomotives have been put into service, railway officials said.

Kyiv resident Margina Daria said Tuesday’s strikes had disrupted mobile phone service in her area.

“We already adjusted to life without light, as we had scheduled blackouts every day, but without communication it was quite disturbing,” she said. “There was no way to even tell our families that we were okay.”

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AP journalists Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw; Lorne Cook in Brussels; John Leicester in Kyiv, Ukraine; Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia; Zeke Miller in Nusa Dua, Indonesia; Michael Balsamo and Lolita Baldor in Washington; Elise Morton in London; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; and James LaPorta in Wilmington, North Carolina, contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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