U.S., Polish and NATO officials all agreed Wednesday that an explosion in eastern Poland that killed two people was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile.
The White House National Security Council said it had “seen nothing that contradicts” Polish President Andrzej Duda’s “preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.”
But Russia is “ultimately responsible for this tragic incident,” with its now nearly nine-month invasion of Ukraine, the White House council said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters, “Ukraine has an ironclad right to defend itself.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg offered a similar assessment, telling reporters in Brussels after a North Atlantic Council meeting, “Let me be clear: This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
The NATO chief said the best way to prevent a similar incident is for Russia to stop its fighting in Ukraine.
Stoltenberg declined to provide additional details when asked whether a Ukrainian missile had intercepted a Russian missile in the area and whether fragments from a Russian missile were found on the ground. He told reporters NATO would later decide how much to reveal from its investigation.
Polish leader Duda also said Wednesday that there was “nothing to suggest” an intentional Russian attack against his country.
“Ukraine’s defense was launching their missiles in various directions, and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory,” Duda said.
Earlier Wednesday, leaders of NATO and the Group of Seven largest developed economies met for an emergency meeting on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 major developed and emerging economies in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss the incident.
“We agreed to support Poland’s investigation into the explosion in rural Poland near the Ukrainian border,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters. “And I’m going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened.”
In a hastily arranged emergency meeting, Biden convened leaders of Canada, the European Commission, the European Council, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Spain following the explosion on Tuesday.
Moscow’s deputy representative to the United Nations said that the blast was designed to spark a war between Russia and NATO.
“There is an attempt to provoke a direct military clash between NATO and Russia, with all the consequences for the world,” Dmitry Polyanskiy said in a statement posted on his Telegram channel.
During their emergency meeting Wednesday, the allied leaders in Bali also discussed the latest series of Russian missile attacks across Ukraine, Biden said, calling Moscow’s actions “totally unconscionable.”
“And the moment when the world had come together at the G-20 to urge de-escalation, Russia continues to — has chosen to — escalate in Ukraine while we’re meeting,” Biden said.
G-20 leaders’ statement
At the end of the G-20 summit Wednesday, the group released a statement that said most members “strongly condemned” the war in Ukraine and that stressed the conflict is exacerbating global economic problems.
“There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions,” the leaders said in the statement, adding that while the G-20 is not “the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
In what appeared to be criticism of Russia’s aggression, leaders stated that the use or the threat of the use of nuclear weapons was “inadmissible.” The group also called for an extension of the agreement with Russia that allows Ukrainian grain exports. It is set to expire Saturday.
At the United Nations on Wednesday, several Security Council members expressed concern about the explosion in Poland and the barrage of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine on Tuesday.
“The more than 90 missiles that rained down on Kyiv and other targets in Ukraine have devastated civilian infrastructure,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “In fact, this may have been the widest-scale missile attack since the beginning of the war. Now, millions of Ukrainians are without heat or electricity.”
Poland’s envoy addressed the meeting. Ambassador Krzysztof Szczerski said the only fault of the two Polish citizens who were killed is that they lived too close to Ukrainian civilian infrastructure targeted by Russia. He said his government had launched a multifaceted and transparent investigation into the incident.
“The very initial findings support the hypothesis that the event was not a deliberate attack, but naturally we need to await the final conclusion until the investigation is over,” he said.
He added that Poland would increase the combat readiness of selected units of its armed forces, particularly those that monitor air space.
Blaming Russia ‘for everything’
Russia’s envoy said the explosion was an attempt by Ukraine and Poland to provoke a direct clash between Russia and NATO.
“Distinguished colleagues, we have long ago stopped being surprised by your attempts in any circumstances, in spite of facts or common sense, to blame Russia for everything,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
Council members also expressed their support for the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has facilitated the export of 11 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain, two-thirds of which has gone to developing countries.
The deal could expire on Saturday if Russia or Ukraine objects to its renewal. If neither objects, it will automatically roll over for another four months.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team have been working diligently to make sure Russia will remain in the deal. Moscow has complained that its complementary deal to get its fertilizer and grain to market has not gone as smoothly as the one for Ukraine. Guterres met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Bali, and a U.N. readout of the meeting said they had a lengthy, frank and open discussion about the deal.
A U.N. source said Wednesday that there were reasons to be “cautiously optimistic” that Russia would renew the deal.