NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that there was “no indication” that a missile that landed inside Poland, killing two people on Tuesday, was the result of a deliberate attack by Russia, “and we have no indication that Russia is planning offensive military actions against NATO allies.”
“I think this demonstrates the dangers connected to the ongoing war in Ukraine, but it hasn’t changed our fundamental assessment of the threat against NATO allies,” Stoltenberg told journalists Wednesday after a meeting of NATO’s ambassadors.
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He said preliminary findings indicated it was likely the missile was Ukrainian air defense, but that “Russia bears responsibility for what happened in Poland yesterday,” because it was a “direct result” of ongoing Russian attacks on Ukraine.
Poland is a member of NATO, so if the missile strike had been a hostile attack by Russia, it could have triggered a response from the allies under the collective defense treaty underpinning the transatlantic military alliance, including the United States.
The origin of the missile that hit Polish territory Tuesday evening has not been confirmed, but as of Wednesday, both the U.S. and Polish leaders had indicated that it was not likely to have been fired by Russia.
President Biden joined other Western leaders in calling for a full investigation into the strike, but said he thought it was unlikely the missile was fired from Russia, based on preliminary evidence on its trajectory, and that it could instead have been the result of a Ukrainian interception or attempted interception of a Russian attack.
“We’ll see,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday. “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.”
When he arrived back at the White House very early Thursday, reporters asked the president about claims from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the missile wasn’t Ukrainian. Mr. Biden replied, “That’s not the evidence.”
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda echoed Mr. Biden’s assessment Wednesday morning, saying it was most likely a Ukrainian missile that fell just inside Polish territory, near the Ukraine border, by accident. He said it did not appear to have been an “intentional attack” by Russia.
The Polish president repeated his remarks from the previous day, saying that he and his allies were “acting with calm” because “this is a difficult situation.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin agreed, telling reporters at a briefing Wednesday, “We have seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of 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 on social media for a “joint study” of the incident. He said Ukraine was expecting to be able to review the evidence for any conclusion that the missile that landed in Poland was Ukrainian air defense, and asked for Ukrainian officials to be given access to the site.
Zelenskyy said later Wednesday that he believed reports he had received from Ukraine’s air force that the missile was not Ukrainian. He also called for Ukraine to be allowed to visit the site in Poland.
“I have no doubt in the air force’s report that it was not our rocket, and it was not our missile strike. I have no reason not to trust them. I went through the war with them,” Zelenskyy said in a press conference. “Do we have the right to be in the investigation team? Of course.”
Polish investigators were hard at work in the missile crater earlier on Wednesday and had established a police cordon a few yards away, BBC News’ Dan Johnson reported from the scene. Residents of the area, which is only about 10 miles from the Ukrainian border, have been nervous that the war could spill over into their community since Russian leader Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on February 24, Johnson noted.
Russia fired more than 90 missiles and drones at Ukrainian towns and cities on Tuesday, plunging ten million households into darkness, the Ukrainian government said. It was the largest single missile barrage Russia has launched during the war.
“This is a Russian missile attack on collective security,” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky said. “This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”
The Kremlin denied responsibility for the missile landing in Poland and called the response of European leaders “hysterical,” while noting the “restrained and much more professional” U.S. reaction.
While urging a thorough investigation, Western leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Sholz and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said Russia bore ultimate responsibility for the missile landing in Poland.
“This wouldn’t 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,” Scholz said.
“This is the cruel and unrelenting reality of Putin’s war,” Sunak said.
CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay contributed to this report.