Poland, NATO say missile strike wasn’t a Russian attack

NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance said on Wednesday that a missile strike on Polish farmland that killed two people appeared to be accidental and was likely fired by the air defense forces of neighboring Ukraine. Russia bombed Ukraine at the time in an attack that knocked out its power grid.

“Ukraine’s defense launched its missiles in different directions, and it is very likely that one of these missiles unfortunately landed on Polish territory,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that this was a deliberate attack on Poland.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the meeting of the military forces of 30 countries alliance in Brussels, reiterated Poland’s preliminary conclusions. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky disputed them and asked for further investigation.

Assessments of Tuesday’s deadly missile landing appear to reduce the likelihood that the strike will trigger another major escalation in Russia’s nearly nine-month-old invasion of Ukraine.. If Russia had targeted Poland, it could have drawn NATO into the conflict.

Still, Stoltenberg and others blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war in general, but not specifically.

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

Zelensky told reporters he had “no doubt” about the message he received from his top commanders “that it was not our missile or our missile strike.” He added that Ukrainian officials should have access to the site and participate in the investigation.

“Let’s face it, if, God forbid, some remnant (of the Ukrainian air defense system) killed a person, these people, then we have to apologize,” he said. “But first there has to be a probe, access – we want to get the data you have.

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

Ahead of assessments from Poland and NATO, US President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” that Russia would launch the missile, but added: “I will make sure we find out exactly what happened.”

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A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman in Moscow said Tuesday’s Russian strike was no closer than 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Ukrainian-Polish border. The Kremlin condemned the initial response by Poland and other countries and, in a rare praise for a US leader, praised Biden’s “restrained, much more professional response”.

“We have seen yet another hysterical, frenzied, Russophobic reaction that was not based on any real data,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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

The Polish president said the missile was likely a Russian-made S-300 dating back to the Soviet era. Ukraine, once a part of the Soviet Union, produces Soviet- and Russian-made weapons, and has also seized many more Russian weapons as it repels the Kremlin’s invasion forces.

On Tuesday, Russia’s attack on power generation and transmission facilities spread across Ukraine’s western region bordering Poland. Ukraine’s military said 77 of the more than 90 missiles fired were shot down by air defense forces, as well as 11 drones.

A nationwide bombardment of cruise missiles and exploding drones has clouded the initial picture of what happened in Poland.

“It was a huge explosion, the sound was terrifying. said Ewa Byra, principal of a primary school in the eastern village of Przewodow, where the rocket hit. She said she knew both men who died – one was the husband of a school worker and the other was the father of a former student.

Another resident, Kinga Kancir, 24, said the men were working in a grain dryer.

“It’s very hard to accept,” she said. “Nothing was happening and suddenly there was a global sensation.”

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

“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 Ukrainian infrastructure,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

After the air attack, part of Ukraine was left without electricity. Zelensky said about 10 million people were without power, but tweeted overnight that 8 million had since been reconnected. Previous strikes have already destroyed around 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure.

Ukraine said the bombing was the worst on its power grid so far.

The Washington-based Institute for Military Studies said Ukraine’s shooting down of so many Russian missiles on Tuesday “illustrates the improvement of Ukraine’s air defenses over the past month”, which has been bolstered by Western-supplied systems. Sweden said on Wednesday that an air defense system with munitions would be part of its latest and largest package of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, worth 360 million euros.

The US was Ukraine’s largest donor, providing $18.6 billion. USD weapons and equipment. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the flow of arms and aid would continue “throughout the winter to allow Ukraine to further consolidate gains and seize the initiative on the battlefield.”

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that he had tried to talk to his Russian counterpart, but that effort was unsuccessful. Milley did not elaborate on the effort, but the absence of the conversation at a time when questions have been raised about whether Russia struck a NATO ally raises concerns about the high level of communication between the U.S. and Russia during the crisis.

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

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As the fighting continues, Rosemary DiCarlo warned the UN Security Council, “the risk of potential catastrophic escalation remains all too real.”

The Russian attacks follow days of euphoria in Ukraine, fueled by one of the country’s biggest military successes, last week’s recapture of the southern city of Kherson.

As battlefield losses mount, Russia increasingly targets Ukraine’s power grid as winter approaches.

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

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

The power outage delayed trains until Wednesday, but there were no cancellations as diesel locomotives were put into service, railway officials said.

Margina Daria, a resident of Kyiv, said Tuesday’s strikes had cut off mobile phone service in her area.

“We’ve already adapted to living without light because we’ve planned outages every day, but without communication it’s been quite disruptive,” 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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