American and European officials now believe the explosion that killed two people in Poland near the country’s border with Ukraine was “very likely” caused by Ukrainian air defenses. Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that “there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side.”
What are the details?
Amid a brutal Russian missile barrage targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure on Tuesday, an explosion rocked the Polish village of Przewodów, just five miles away from the Ukrainian border. Two farm workers were killed.
Ukrainian officials accused Moscow of a “major escalation.”
While Polish combat planes were scrambled, Warsaw summoned Russia’s ambassador.
A Russian attack on Poland would have been sufficient to trigger articles 4 and 5 of the NATO charter, potentially putting the U.S. into direct conflict with the nuclear power.
Duda, President Joe Biden, and the leaders of other allied countries held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to collectively determine their next steps. In the talks, Biden condemned the “scores and scores of missile attacks in western Ukraine.”
Hours later, the Polish president indicated on Twitter that the explosion was instead an “unfortunate accident” caused by a “S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side.”
Barron’s reported that the Russian defense ministry corroborated the Polish president’s statement, stating, “Photographs of the wreckage … were unequivocally identified by Russian military experts as fragments of a guided anti-aircraft missile of a Ukrainian S-300 air defence system.”
“It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense,” added Duda.
Duda noted that “there are many indications that it was an air defense missile, which unfortunately fell on Polish territory.”
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed the claim that the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile, calling it a Russian “conspiracy theory.”
According to Kiev, Russia launched over 90 missiles into Ukraine on Tuesday, 77 of which the Ukrainian military allegedly shot down.
The Guardian reported that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg similarly suggested that, on the basis of preliminary analysis, it appears that “the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.”
“We have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack,” said Stoltenberg, “and no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against NATO.”
While it may have been a Ukrainian missile, Stoltenberg stressed that the “tragic incident” is “not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
This sentiment was also expressed by Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski, who indicated that “we are dealing with a consequence of Russia’s actions.”
In concurrence with Duda and Stoltenberg, Biden suggested Wednesday morning that it is “unlikely in the lines of the trajectory that [the missile] was fired from Russia, but we’ll see.”
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a forceful statement, saying, “Russian missiles hit Poland, the territory of our friendly country. People died.”
Zelenskyy, keen on NATO’s formal induction into the war, said, “The longer Russia feels impunity, the more threats there will be to anyone within reach of Russian missiles. To fire missiles at NATO territory! This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act!”
The Russians also jumped to conclusions.
The Washington Post reported that the Russian defense ministry intimated that the explosion was a false flag attack, calling it “a deliberate provocation in order to escalate the situation.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda did not, however, jump to conclusions. He indicated that an investigation was under way and advised people to “be calm.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki suggested that it may not be necessary to invoke NATO’s Article 4. Nevertheless, NATO is set to meet on Wednesday at the request of Poland.