World leaders gathered at the G20 summit in Bali sought to diffuse a potential escalation in the months-long Ukraine war after a “Russian-made” missile struck NATO member Poland, killing two people
The missile landed outside the rural Polish village of Przewodow, about four miles (6.4 kilometers) west of the Ukrainian border on Tuesday afternoon, around the same time as Russia launched its biggest wave of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities in more than a month.
The circumstances surrounding the incident, which marks the first time a NATO country has been directly hit during the nearly nine-month conflict, are unclear. It is not known who fired the missile, nor where exactly it was fired from, although the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs described it as “made in Russia”.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have used Russian-made munitions during the conflict, with Ukraine deploying Russian-made missiles as part of its air defense system.
Speaking to reporters after holding an emergency meeting with G7 and NATO leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit, US President Joe Biden said preliminary information suggested that it was “unlikely” that the missile was fired from inside Russia, but it was not able to say conclusively until the investigation was complete.
“We agreed to support Poland’s investigation into the explosion … And I’m going to make sure we understand exactly what happened,” Biden said, adding that the leaders offered sympathy for the deaths of two people. “So we’re going to collectively determine our next step as we investigate and proceed. There was total unanimity among the people at the table,” he added.
After Biden’s statement, a NATO military official told CNN that the missile had been tracked by an alliance plane flying over Polish airspace at the time of the explosion.
“Intel with the radar tracks [of the missile] it was provided to NATO and Poland,” the NATO military official added. The NATO official did not say who launched the missile, or where it was fired.
The missile attack inside Poland’s borders on Tuesday “would not have happened without Russia’s horrific missile attacks against Ukraine,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a statement in Wednesday line.
“The G7 and the current members of NATO convened a meeting this morning in Bali during the G20 to discuss the incident in Poland last night. We are united in our message that we first need to establish the facts and therefore support Poland’s investigation,” Rutte wrote.
In comments earlier Tuesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda noted that while it was unclear who launched the missile, it was “probably” made in Russia. “We are working calmly and in a very calm way,” Duda said during an address from the National Security Office in Warsaw.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in the explosion, with Russia’s Defense Ministry calling reports from Polish media, which first reported the deaths, “a deliberate provocation to aggravate the situation,” according to a brief statement late tuesday
He added that the photos of the wreckage published by Polish media “from the scene in the village of Przewodow have nothing to do with Russian weapons.”
The Russian mission to the UN on Wednesday said that “the incident in Poland is an attempt to provoke a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia”, adding that the incident would be the focus of attention to the UN Security Council meeting later in the day.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday that evidence suggests the missile that landed in Przewodów was a “single act” and there is no evidence of further missile attacks.
But while urging calm, Morawiecki said that Poland would increase its military preparedness and contemplated the activation of Article 4 of the NATO Treaty. Article 4 is a consultation method that allows members of the 30-nation alliance to bring an issue – usually on security – for discussion to the North Atlantic Council, its decision-making body.
Whatever the outcome of the Polish-led investigation, the incident reinforced long-standing concerns about the risk of a miscalculation on the battlefield triggering the NATO-Russia conflict.
A witness to the blast described hearing a terrifying “whoosh” as the projectile flew over the city and the force of the blast shook nearby windows.
Video taken by a resident, which was geolocated and confirmed by CNN, shows a large plume of smoke in the center of the village.
At the site of the explosion, local media showed an image of a crater and an overturned agricultural vehicle. CNN cannot independently confirm the photos.
In his address, Duda said the United States was sending experts to investigate the site as part of the joint operation.
Speaking after a call with Duda on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it was “important that all the facts are established.”
“I offer my condolences for the loss of life. NATO is monitoring the situation and the Allies are closely consulting. It is important that all the facts are established,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.