Przyodo, Poland (AFP) – NATO member Poland and head of the military alliance said Wednesday that a missile strike on Polish farmland that killed two people appeared to have been unintentional and may have been launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine. Russia was bombing Ukraine at the time in an attack that attacked its power grid.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said: “Ukraine’s defense was firing its missiles in different directions, and it is very likely that one of these missiles fell, unfortunately, on Polish soil.” “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was a deliberate attack on Poland.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at a meeting of the 30-nation military The Coalition in Brussels echoed the initial Polish findings. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky opposed them and demanded further investigation.
Assessments of the missile’s fatal landing on Tuesday appeared to downplay the possibility that the strike could trigger another major escalation in Russia’s nine-month-old invasion of Ukraine.. Had Russia targeted Poland, it could have drawn NATO into the conflict.
However, Stoltenberg and others have placed general but not specific blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
This is not Ukraine’s fault. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility,” Stoltenberg said.
Zelensky told reporters he had “no doubt” about a report he received from his senior commanders that “it was not our missile or missile strike.” He added that Ukrainian officials should have access to the site and participate in the investigation.
And he said: “Let’s say frankly, if the remnants of (Ukrainian air defenses) killed someone, God forbid, these people, then we must apologize.” “But first there has to be an investigation, access – we want to get the data you have.”
On Tuesday, he called the strike “a very significant escalation.”
Ahead of the Polish and NATO assessments, US President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” that Russia would launch the missile but added, “I will make sure you find out exactly what happened.”
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman in Moscow said there was no Russian strike on Tuesday that was closer than 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the border between Ukraine and Poland. The Kremlin decried the initial response from Poland and other countries and, in rare praise for an American leader, praised Biden’s “discreet and more professional” response.
“We witnessed another hysterical, frenzied 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 reportedly lasted about 20 minutes.
The Polish president said the missile was probably a Russian-made S-300, dating back to the Soviet era. Ukraine, which was once part of the Soviet Union, has both Soviet and Russian made weapons and also captured many Russian weapons while defeating the Kremlin’s invading forces.
The Russian attack on power generation and transmission facilities on Tuesday included the western region of Ukraine bordering Poland. The Ukrainian military said that 77 of the more than 90 missiles fired were shot down by the air defenses, along with 11 drones.
The bombing of cruise missiles across the country and the explosion of drones clouded the initial picture of what happened in Poland.
“It was a huge explosion, the sound was terrifying.” said Ewa Bera, principal of the primary school in the eastern village of Przyodo, where the rocket landed. She said she knew both of the men who were killed – one was the husband of a school employee and the other the father of a former student.
Another resident, Kenga Kansir, 24, said the men worked in a grain-drying facility.
“It’s very hard to accept,” she said. “There was nothing going on, and all of a sudden, there was a sense of the world.”
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 so intensely and on a large scale,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Parts of Ukraine were powerless after the air attack. About 10 million people lost power, Zelensky said, but he tweeted overnight that 8 million were later reconnected. Previous strikes had already destroyed an estimated 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure.
Ukraine said the bombing was the largest in the power grid so far.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine’s shooting down of several Russian missiles on Tuesday “illustrates the improvement in Ukraine’s air defenses in the past month,” which are being augmented by Western-supplied systems. Sweden said Wednesday that the air defense system with ammunition will form part of the latest and largest package of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, worth $360 million.
The United States has been Ukraine’s largest supporter, providing $18.6 billion in weapons and equipment. US Secretary of Defense 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.”
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he tried to talk to his Russian counterpart Wednesday, but those efforts were unsuccessful. Milley did not elaborate on the efforts, but the lack of a conversation, at a time when questions about whether Russia had struck a NATO ally, raises concerns about high-level US-Russian contacts in crisis.
At the United Nations, the organization’s political officer said the missile strike in Poland was a “chilling reminder” of the need to prevent any further escalation of the war.
As long as the fighting continues, Rosemary DiCarlo warned the UN Security Council that “the risks of potentially catastrophic repercussions remain very real”.
The Russian attacks follow days of euphoria in Ukraine sparked by one of its biggest military successes – the recapture of the southern city of Kherson last week.
As its losses on the battlefield mount, Russia has increasingly resorted to targeting Ukraine’s power grid as winter approaches.
A senior official, Kirillo Tymoshenko, said Wednesday that Russian attacks in the past 24 hours have killed at least six civilians and wounded 17 others.
Lviv Governor Maksym Kozitsky said two out of three Russian missiles hit critical energy infrastructure in the western province. He said electricity has been restored to about 95% of the province, but only 30% of consumers can use electricity at the same time.
The power outage caused long train delays that extended into Wednesday, but no cancellations took place Railroad officials said diesel locomotives were being pressed into service.
Kyiv resident Margina Darya said Tuesday’s strikes disrupted mobile phone service in her area.
“We’ve really adapted to life without light, because we’ve set outages every day, but without communication it was very annoying,” she said. “There was no way we could even tell our families we were okay.”
AP journalists Vanessa Gera and Monica Cieslowska in Warsaw; Lorne Cook in Brussels; John Lister in Kyiv, Ukraine; Jurass Karmano in Tallinn, Estonia; Zeke Miller in Nusa Dua, Indonesia; Michael Balsamo and Lolita Baldur in Washington. Elise Morton from London; Edith m. Lederer at the United Nations; James Laporta in Wilmington, North Carolina contributed.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine