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

PRZEWODOW, Poland (AP) — NATO member Poland and the alliance’s military chief both said Wednesday that a missile strike on Polish farmland that killed two people appears to have been unintentionally launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine. Russia had been bombing Ukraine at the time in an attack that destroyed its power grid.

“The defense of Ukraine was launching their missiles in different directions, and it is very likely that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on the territory of Poland,” said the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was a deliberate attack on Poland.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in a meeting of the military 30 countries alliance in Brussels, echoes the preliminary Polish findings. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy disagreed with them and asked for further investigation.

The assessments of Tuesday’s deadly missile landing appeared to dial back the likelihood that the strike would trigger another major escalation in the nearly 9-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine.. If Russia had targeted Poland, it could have risked drawing NATO into the conflict.

However, Stoltenberg and others placed general but not specific blame for the war on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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

Zelenskyy told reporters he had “no doubt” about a report he received from his top commanders “that it 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, that some remnants (of Ukraine’s air defenses) killed a person, these people, then we need to apologize,” he said. “But first we need a probe, access – we want to get the data you have.”

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

Before the Polish and NATO assessments, US President Joe Biden had said it was “unlikely” that Russia had fired the missile but added: “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.”

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A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow said there was no Russian strike on Tuesday closer than 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the border between Ukraine and Poland. The Kremlin denounced the initial response of Poland and other countries and, in a rare compliment to a US leader, praised Biden’s “restricted, much more professional response”.

“We have witnessed another hysterical, frantic Russo-phobic reaction that was not based on any real data,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Later Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish ambassador in Moscow; the discussion is said to last about 20 minutes.

The Polish president said the missile was probably a Russian-made S-300 dating from the Soviet era. Ukraine, which was once part of the Soviet Union, contains both Soviet and Russian-made weapons and has also captured many more Russian weapons while beating back the Kremlin’s invasion forces.

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

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

“It was a huge blast, the noise was terrifying.” said Ewa Byra, director 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 pupil.

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

“It’s very hard to accept,” he said. “Nothing was happening and, all of a sudden, there’s a world feeling.”

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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 that are now being fired at Ukrainian infrastructure intensively and on a large scale,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Parts of Ukraine were without power after the airstrike. Zelenskyy said around 10 million people had lost electricity, but tweeted overnight that 8 million were subsequently reconnected. Previous strikes had already destroyed an estimated 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure.

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

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

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

Army Gen. said. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, that he tried to speak to his counterpart in Russian on Wednesday, but those efforts were not successful. Milley did not elaborate on the efforts, but the lack of conversation, at a time when there were questions about whether Russia had struck a NATO ally, raises concerns about high-level communication between the United States and Russia in a crisis.

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

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

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

With its battlefield losses mounting, Russia has increasingly turned to targeting Ukraine’s power grid as winter approaches.

Russian attacks in the previous 24 hours killed at least six civilians and wounded 17 others, a senior official, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Wednesday.

Lviv Gov said. Maksym Kozytskyy two of three Russian missiles hit critical energy infrastructure in the western province. Power was restored to about 95% of the province, he said, but only 30% of users can use electricity at the same time.

A power shortage caused extensive train delays extending into Wednesday, but there were no cancellations because diesel locomotives are being pressed into service, railroad officials said.

Kyiv resident Margina Daria said Tuesday’s strikes knocked out cell phone service in her area.

“We’ve already adapted to life without light, because we’ve scheduled outages every day, but without communication it was quite annoying,” he said. “There was no way to even tell our families that we were OK.”

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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 contributed in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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

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