NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that “there is no indication” that aThe two deaths on Tuesday were the result of a deliberate Russian attack, “and we have no indication that Russia is planning offensive military action against NATO allies.”
“I think it shows the dangers associated with the ongoing war in Ukraine, but it has not changed our fundamental assessment of the threat to NATO allies,” Stoltenberg told reporters after a meeting of NATO ambassadors on Wednesday.
He said preliminary findings showed it was likely the missile was a Ukrainian air defense system, but “Russia takes responsibility for what happened in Poland yesterday” because it was a “direct result”.
Poland is a member of NATO, so if the missile strike had been a hostile attack by Russia, it could have drawn 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 hit Polish territory on Tuesday night has not been confirmed, but both US and Polish leaders said on Wednesday that it was likely not launched by Russia.
President Biden joined other Western leaders in calling for a full investigation into the strike, but said he believed it was unlikely the missile was launched from Russia, based on preliminary evidence of its trajectory, and that it could have been the result of a Ukrainian. interception or attempted interception of a Russian attack.
“We’ll see,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday. “I’ll make sure we find out exactly what happened.”
When he returned to the White House very early Thursday, reporters asked the president about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s claims that the missile was not Ukrainian. Biden responded, “That’s not evidence.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda echoed Biden’s assessment Wednesday morning, saying it was likely a Ukrainian missile that accidentally landed 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 comments from the previous day, saying he and his allies were “acting calmly” because “it’s 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 caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.” Like other Western leaders, Austin also said that “Russia bears ultimate responsibility for this incident.”
The secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine called for a “joint investigation” of the incident on social media. He said Ukraine hoped to be able to review the evidence to conclude that the missile that landed in Poland was Ukrainian air defense and asked to allow Ukrainian officials access to the site.
Zelensky said later on Wednesday that he believed there had been a report from the Ukrainian Air Force that the missile was not Ukrainian. He also called for Ukraine to be allowed to visit this place 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 to distrust them. I went through a war with them,” Zelensky said at a press conference. “Do we have the right to be on the investigative team? Of course.”
Polish investigators were hard at work inside the rocket crater earlier on Wednesday and had set up a police cordon a few yards away, BBC News’ Dan Johnson reported from the scene. Residents of the district, located just 10 miles from the Ukrainian border, have worried that the war could spill over into their community since February 24. Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion, Johnson noted.
Russia launched more than 90 missiles and drones at Ukrainian towns and cities on Tuesday, submerging ten million households, the Ukrainian government said. It was the largest single missile barrage launched by Russia during the war.
“This is a Russian missile attack against collective security,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. “This is a very significant escalation. We have to act.”
The Kremlin denied responsibility for the missile landing in Poland and called the reaction of European leaders “hysterical”, but noted the “restrained and much more professional” reaction of the US.
Calling for a full investigation, Western leaders including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Russia bore the brunt of the missile landing in Poland.
“This would not have happened without Russia’s war against Ukraine, without the missiles that are now being fired intensively and on a large scale at Ukraine’s infrastructure,” Scholz said.
“This is the brutal and unrelenting reality of Putin’s war,” Sunak said.
CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay contributed to this report.