PRZEWODOW, Poland (AP) — NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance both said Wednesday that a missile strike in Polish farmland that killed two people did not appear to be intentional and was probably launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine. Russia had been bombarding Ukraine at the time in an attack that savaged its power grid.
“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," said Polish President Andrzej Duda. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was an intentional attack on Poland.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at a meeting of the 30-nation military alliance in Brussels, echoed the preliminary Polish findings.
The initial assessments of Tuesday's deadly landing of the Soviet-era missile appeared to dial back the likelihood of the strike triggering another major escalation in the nearly 9-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine. If Russia had deliberately targeted Poland, that could have risked drawing NATO into the conflict.
Still, Stoltenberg and others laid overall, but not specific, blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
“This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility,” Stoltenberg said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy disputed the preliminary findings and demanded evidence. He told reporters he had “no doubts” about a report he said he had personally received from his top commanders “that it wasn’t our missile or our missile strike.”
Ukrainian officials should have access to the site and take part in the investigation, he added.
"Let’s say openly, if, God forbid, some remnant (of Ukraine's air-defenses killed a person, these people, then we need to apologize. We are honest people after all. But first there needs to be a probe, access — we want to get the data you have,” Zelenskyy said.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy had called the strike “a very significant escalation.”
Before the Polish and NATO assessments, U.S. President Joe Biden had said it was “unlikely” that Russia fired the missile but added: “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.”
A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman in Moscow said no Russian strike Tuesday was closer than 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Ukraine-Poland border. The Kremlin denounced Poland’s and other countries’ initial response and, in rare praise for a U.S. leader, hailed Biden’s “restrained, much more professional reaction.”
“We have witnessed another hysterical, frenzied, Russo-phobic reaction that was not based on any real data,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Later Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish ambassador in Moscow; the discussion reportedly lasted about 20 minutes.
Three U.S. officials said preliminary assessments suggested the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian one. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. That assessment and Biden’s comments at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia contradicted information earlier Tuesday from a senior U.S. intelligence official who told The Associated Press that Russian missiles crossed into Poland.
The Polish president said the missile was probably a Russian-made S-300 dating from the Soviet era. Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, fields Soviet- and Russian-made weaponry, including air-defense missiles, and has also seized many more Russian weapons while beating back the Kremlin’s invasion forces.
Russia's assault on power generation and transmission facilities Tuesday included Ukraine’s western region 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 countrywide bombardment by barrages of cruise missiles and exploding drones clouded the initial picture of what happened in Poland.