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The deadly blast in Poland that killed two and stoked fears that the Kremlin’s war would escalate into a wider conflict was most likely an accident caused by Ukraine's air defense responding to a Russian missile barrage, Western leaders said Wednesday.
The leaders of NATO and member state Poland both said that early indications suggested the incident was not a deliberate Russian attack.
While the comments will likely lower tensions, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels that the Kremlin was still ultimately responsible for the incident because it was waging the war in Ukraine.
Moscow's military unleashed an aerial assault on targets across the country Tuesday, sparking widespread blackouts. Tensions spiraled after the explosion in neighboring Poland, though the Kremlin denied any involvement and President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” that the missile had been launched from Russia.
Here's what to know
- The leaders of NATO and member state Poland said early Wednesday that the explosion was most likely an accident caused by Ukrainian air defense responding to a Russian missile barrage.
- The early suggestions that it was not an intentional attack by Russia on the territory of the Western alliance was expected to lower fears of escalation.
- An official in Kyiv called for a “joint study” of the blast site and said Ukraine was waiting for its allies to hand over evidence that its missile hit Poland.
- Biden called an emergency meeting of allied leaders in Indonesia, and pledged “full U.S support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation.”
- "Most members" of the G-20 strongly condemned the war in Ukraine in a final communiqué from their summit in Indonesia.
How the Poland missile strike could change Putin’s war in Ukraine
Russia may not have fired the missile that landed in NATO territory but was ultimately responsible for the deadly blast, Western officials and analysts said Wednesday — suggesting that it will likely add to pressure on Ukraine’s allies to send new military aid at a crucial phase in the war.
The spillover of the war into Poland, a NATO member, could spur Kyiv’s backers to provide improved air defense and ground attack systems, experts told NBC News, even as consensus emerged that an errant Ukrainian defensive missile had likely caused the deaths of two people in a village near the countries’ border.
“This was not Ukraine’s fault,” alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference, adding that “Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
Moment of silence observed for Polish victims of blast
Polish lawmakers observed a minute of silence Wednesday in memory of the two citizens who were killed by the blast in the village of Przewodów.
'Nothing contradicts' assessment that Poland blast caused by Ukraine missile, NSC says
Nothing appears to contradict Poland's initial assessment that the deadly blast near the border with Ukraine was caused by a Ukrainian missile, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council said on 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," spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.
Ukraine maintains that none of its missiles were involved in the incident, which killed two people.
"Whatever the final conclusions may be, it is clear that the party ultimately responsible for this tragic incident is Russia, which launched a barrage of missiles on Ukraine specifically intended to target civilian infrastructure. Ukraine had — and has — every right to defend itself," Watson added.
Zelenskyy maintains Ukrainian missile didn't cause Poland blast
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that he has "no doubt" that it was not a Ukrainian missile that caused the explosion on the Polish border that killed two, but nonetheless wants his country to be part of an investigation.
"I have a very simple suggestion — provide Ukraine with access" to the site of the explosion, Zelenskyy said on Ukrainian television. "Is that fair? I believe that we have the right to this."
He added: "If someone says that this is our rocket, should we be in a joint investigative group? I think we should, and it is fair."
A security guard and a tractor driver: Details emerge about blast victims
PRZEWODOW, Poland — A resident of the Polish border village where a missile landed says the two victims of the blast were men around 60 years old.
Kinga Kancir, from the village of Przewodów in eastern Poland near Ukraine, said Wednesday both men worked at the village grain-drying facility.
“One was a guard, who guarded everything there. The other one was the tractor driver” who transported all the grain, Kancir, 24, told The Associated Press.
“One of the victims was our neighbor who lived across from our apartment bloc,” Kancir said. “The other one lived in the neighboring village.”
She said there is “fear, anxiety” in the village about what the future might hold.
Poland’s ambassador to Moscow was summoned to foreign ministry
Poland's ambassador to Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday in the wake of the deadly blast near Poland's border with Ukraine.
The move, an established mechanism for a host country to express displeasure about the actions of another government, was announced by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday via Telegram.
Soon after the explosion that killed two on Tuesday, some reports and officials blamed Russia for the incident. Later, Polish officials said the blast was likely caused by a Ukrainian anti-missile system.
Earlier, Russia's Defense Ministry decried the "outrageous public reaction to the incident in a number of NATO countries, the media, which, in unison, without the desire to understand the situation, hastened to circulate absolutely false, unfounded allegations that Russia could be the culprit."
Poland's president looks to reassure residents over military 'movement in the sky'
Poland's president sought to reassure residents Wednesday that the ramped up presence of military forces in the country's airspace following the blast in Przewodów was in order to strengthen security.
"If anyone is worried about the movement in the sky, the presence of military forces, I assure you — these actions are aimed at strengthening our security," Andrzej Duda said in a tweet.
Earlier, Duda said there was "no indication" the deadly blast was an intentional attack and said it was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile.
NATO reaffirms Ukraine's right to self defense
Poland installs barbed wire along border with Kaliningrad
U.S. will work closely with Poland to 'gather more information' on blast, Austin says
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. will work closely with Poland and others to "gather more information" on what exactly happened in the blast in Przewodów.
The explosion occurred as Russia faced "setback after setback on the battlefield," Austin said.
"The Kremlin might hope that more bombardment will break the resolve of the Ukrainian people. But ordinary Ukrainian citizens have responded with the magnificent defiance that the world now knows so well," he said.
Austin also said that newly arrived NASAMS air defense systems have had a 100% accuracy rate in intercepting Russian missiles.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a tweet this month that the country had received its first NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) and Aspide air defense systems.
Russian espionage capabilities hampered after 400 spies expelled from Europe, MI5 chief says
While the U.K. faces major security threats from Russia, China and Iran, the Kremlin’s intelligence efforts have been hampered since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Britain’s domestic intelligence spy chief said Wednesday.
Ken McCallum, director-general of MI5, said Russia’s espionage capabilities have suffered a “significant strategic blow” since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine after the expulsion of at least 400 spies working under diplomatic cover at Russian missions across Europe. At least 23 of those spies were in the U.K., he said.
Still, he said British spies had to contend with a “Russian covert toolkit” including assassination attempts “cyberattacks, disinformation, espionage” and interfering with democracy.
In a speech outlining the major threats to the U.K., McCallum said there was also a risk Russia, China and Iran could help one another, “amplifying their strengths.”
‘I saw this monstrous black cloud’: Eyewitness on Poland blastNov. 16, 202201:12
Ukraine calls for 'joint study' to investigate Poland blast, official says
Ukraine called for a "joint study" of the blast in Poland that killed two people on Tuesday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said.
"We are ready to hand over the evidence of the Russian trail that we have," Danilov said in a tweet on Wednesday. "We are expecting information from our partners, on the basis of which a conclusion was made that it is a Ukrainian air defense missile."
Danilov said Ukraine was requesting "immediate access to the site of the explosion" to investigate the incident.
Kremlin praises 'restrained' U.S. in contrast to 'hysterical' response from others
The Kremlin decried what it said was a "rabid Russophobic reaction" to the deadly blast in Poland but hailed what it described as the "much more professional" response from Washington.
"We have witnessed another hysterical, rabid Russophobic reaction, which was not based on any real data," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing Wednesday.
"It is worth paying attention to the restrained and much more professional reaction of the American side and the American president," Peskov added.
Poland blast most likely wasn't deliberate attack, NATO secretary general says
Tuesday's explosion in Poland was most likely not the result of a deliberate attack and there is no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military operations against NATO, the alliance's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said.
Preliminary analysis indicated that the blast, which killed two Polish citizens near the border with Ukraine, was caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired in defense against Russian cruise missile attacks, Stoltenberg said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
Stoltenberg said he wanted to "be clear" that "this is not Ukraine's fault."
"Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine," he said.
Russia ultimately responsible for Poland blast, NATO chief saysNov. 16, 202201:05
NATO's Article 4 has not been activated, Poland's PM says
NATO members have not begun formal Article 4 consultations over the deadly explosion in Poland near the country's border with Ukraine, Poland's prime minister said on Wednesday.
“Article 4 has not been activated,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a statement. “Materials collected by our services, as well as provided by allies, indicate that the explosion occurred as a result of the shooting down and destruction of a Russian missile.”
According to NATO’s website, an alliance member can invoke Article 4 when, “in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.”
Photo: World leaders discuss news from Poland at G20.
Poland: Blast likely caused by Ukrainian air defense missile, ‘no indication’ of intentional attack
Poland's president said Wednesday there was "no indication" the deadly blast was an "intentional attack" on his country and said it was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile.
"There is no indication that this could be qualified as an attack against Poland," Polish President Andrzej Duda said in a news conference Wednesday.
"Unfortunately, it is highly probable that one of the missiles fired by the Ukrainian missile defense unfortunately fell on our territory," he said.
"Materials collected by our services, as well as provided by allies, indicate that the explosion occurred as a result of the shooting down and destruction of a Russian missile."
Early indications suggest Poland blast involved Ukrainian air defense, officials tell NBC News
Preliminary indications suggest that a Ukrainian air defense system was involved in Tuesday's deadly blast in Poland, a senior U.S. official and a European government official told NBC News. Both sources said the investigation was ongoing and that was not yet certain.
Belgium's defense minister said early Wednesday that the blast appears to be the result of “Ukrainian air defense.”
Western officials have stressed that no matter who fired the missile, Russia's war was ultimately responsible for the incident. "One thing is clear: This would not have happened without Russia’s horrific missile attacks against Ukraine," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
What are NATO Articles 4 and 5?
The explosion in NATO member Poland’s territory has raised concerns about Russia’s war in Ukraine spreading to neighboring countries. The transatlantic military alliance was meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
Article 4 of the NATO treaty states that all NATO members “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”
The blast has prompted speculation about NATO’s Article 5, which states that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all."
It also states that parties "agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
Article 5 is not automatically invoked. Member countries must come together to evaluate a situation and determine whether it should be triggered.
It was not triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February because Ukraine is not a part of NATO. Article 5 has been activated once before, on behalf of the United States in response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Poland blast appears to be result of 'Ukrainian air defense,' Belgian defense minister says
The deadly blast in Przewodów appears to be the result of "Ukrainian air defense," Belgium's defense minister said early Wednesday.
"Based on current information, the strikes in Poland seem to be a result of Ukrainian air defense," Ludivine Dedonder said in a tweet.
"Pieces of Russian missiles and a Ukrainian interception missile are said to have landed in Poland," the defense minister said. Dedonder said investigations were underway to confirm the cause of the blast.
NBC News has not verified the details and Poland has not said who might have fired the missile, only that it was "Russian-made." President Joe Biden said earlier it was "unlikely" the missile was fired from Russia.
Photo shared by Polish police appears to show impact of blast
A photo shared online by Polish police appears to show the impact of the deadly explosion in the village of Przewodów.
Investigators can be seen trawling through what appears to be a crater caused by the explosion in a photo posted to Twitter by Polska Policja.
“Police have been securing the area since the beginning of the event,” authorities said in the post.
Biden speaks with Polish President Andrzej Duda from Bali
Biden counters Russia at G-20 by touting alliances mocked by Trump
BALI, Indonesia — Surrounded by America’s closest allies, President Joe Biden plotted a response to reports that a Russian-made missile had hit Poland near the border with Ukraine — immediately causing alarm about possible escalation in the region.
Biden, speaking Wednesday local time, emerged to vow that the U.S. and its allies would “collectively determine our next steps and proceed.”
Minutes later and half a world away, former President Donald Trump announced he’s running again, while implying that some of the countries Biden wants to help deter Russia aren’t so much allies as thieves.
“I used to fight like cats and dogs with the leaders of other countries because they were stealing from us,” Trump said.
The crisis in Poland spawned a split-screen moment highlighting two starkly different approaches to advancing America’s basic foreign policy interests — between two men who could be heading for a rematch in 2024.
Polish police guard a checkpoint in Przewodow
Ukrainian official urges Europe to 'close the sky'
It is "time for Europe to close the sky" over Ukraine after the deadly blast in Poland, Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Wednesday.
"Only Russia is responsible for the war in Ukraine and massive missile strikes. Only Russia is behind the rapidly growing risks for the border countries," he said on Twitter. "No need to look for excuses and postpone key decisions. Time for Europe to "close the sky over 🇺🇦". For your own safety too..."
‘Most members’ of G-20 strongly condemn war in Ukraine
BALI, Indonesia — President Joe Biden didn’t get everything he wanted in the Group of 20’s joint statement at the close of its summit meeting in Indonesia on Wednesday. But what he got might be just enough to irritate his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
The Biden administration had been hoping the summit, which brought together the world’s 20 largest economies, would produce a communiqué that strongly condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, with as many nations as possible signing on.
The document released at the end of the conference is carefully worded, with the feel of a hard-fought compromise. The section on Ukraine says that “most members” strongly condemned the war and the “immense human suffering” it has caused, while noting that “there were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
There is no breakdown provided of which members fell into which group. But G-20 members like China, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, which have stronger relationships with Moscow, have largely refrained from publicly criticizing Russia over its actions and tried to appear neutral in the conflict.
The language also does not explicitly fault Russia, another G-20 member. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who attended the summit in place of Putin, had accused Western countries on Tuesday of trying to “politicize” the joint statement.
In another passage that seems at least partly aimed at Putin, the statement says “the use or threat of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.” The Russian president has denied that he intends to use nuclear weapons to reverse battlefield losses, but he raised alarms in September when he warned that he was prepared to use “all means available to protect Russia.”
Communiqués tend to have a short shelf life, of interest mainly to the diplomats who negotiate and write them. Still, when Putin sees the document it is hard to imagine he’ll be pleased. As it was being crafted, one Biden administration official told reporters: “I think what you will see is that most countries of the G-20 will be clear that Russia’s war of aggression is being condemned in the strongest possible terms.”
Blinken speaks with Ukrainian counterpart after Poland blast
Ukraine's foreign minister said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call Tuesday and called for a "stiff and principled" response to the blast that killed two people in Poland.
Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet he had a "detailed call" with Blinken on "Russian missile terror," during which he stressed the importance of a rigid response to the deadly explosion Tuesday.
Blinken acknowledged in a tweet that he had discussed the blast with Kuleba, but he did not expand on the details of the conversation. "We are committed to be with Ukraine for as long as it takes," he said.
Kuleba has accused Russia of peddling a “conspiracy theory” by suggesting that the strike in Poland was caused by an errant Ukrainian air defense missile. “No one should buy Russian propaganda or amplify its messages,” he said earlier on Twitter.
Here's what Poland's neighbors said
Poland's neighboring NATO and European Union allies responded with a mixture of patient concern and anger to the explosion Tuesday.
Lithuania's defense minister, Artis Pabriks, said in a tweet: "[The] criminal Russian regime fired missiles which target not only Ukrainian civilians but also landed on NATO territory in Poland."
Others, however, were more reserved. The Czech prime minister, Petr Fiala, said that if it was confirmed to be a Russian attack, "this will be a further escalation by Russia."
Alar Karis, the president of Estonia, said he was in contact with the Polish president and would consult on "further activities."
China urges all parties to ‘stay calm’
All parties should “stay calm and exercise restraint, and avoid escalation of the situation,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning, told a regular news briefing on Wednesday after the blast in Poland.
China, which has a strategic partnership with Russia, has refrained from condemning Moscow’s actions in Ukraine or calling it a war. It has tried to position itself as neutral in the conflict, calling for peace negotiations and expressing opposition to the use of nuclear weapons.
CIA director met with Zelenskyy after warning Russia on nuclear weapons
CIA Director William Burns met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials in Kyiv on Tuesday, a U.S. official said.
The visit came a day after Burns met his Russian counterpart in Turkey. The official said Burns discussed a warning he delivered to the head of Russia's foreign intelligence service not to use nuclear weapons.
The CIA director also sought to reinforce the U.S. commitment to provide support to Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces, the official said. Burns' safety was not in jeopardy during the visit, despite the wave of Russian missile strikes on the country, the official said.
Biden heads home as G-20 summit concludes
President Joe Biden is on his way back to Washington after attending a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia that was shadowed by the deadly missile strike in Poland and international divisions over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The G-20 is made up of the world’s largest economies, including China, Russia, the United States and the European Union. The summit concluded with a joint communiqué that reflected members’ divergent approaches to Russia’s aggression, with “most” of them strongly condemning the war but not all.
Biden left the island of Bali on Air Force One at 2:25 p.m. local time (1:25 a.m. ET), and is expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews late Wednesday.
Indonesia was the president’s last stop on a weeklong trip that also included visits to Egypt for the United Nations climate change conference and Cambodia for a summit of Southeast Asian nations. During the G-20 summit, Biden also held his first face-to-face meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping since taking office.
Here's what Ukraine said about the incident
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy directly accused Russia of firing the missile that killed two people in eastern Poland on Tuesday night, describing it as an attack on Europe's collective security.
"How many times has Ukraine said that the terrorist state will not limit itself to our country? Poland, the Baltic states... It's only a matter of time before Russian terror goes further," he said in his nightly address Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia was peddling a "conspiracy theory" by suggesting that the strike was caused by an errant Ukrainian air defense missile. "No one should buy Russian propaganda or amplify its messages," he said on Twitter.
Here's what Russia said about the incident
Russia strongly denied being responsible for the blast that killed two people Tuesday in rural eastern Poland.
"Polish mass media and officials commit deliberate provocation to escalate situation with their statement on alleged impact of ‘Russian’ rockets at Przewodów," the Russian Ministry of Defense said on its Telegram channel Tuesday.
Images of the wreckage in the aftermath of the strike "have no relation to Russian firepower," the ministry said.
Biden says it's ‘unlikely’ missile was launched from inside Russia
U.S. President Joe Biden said the missile that killed two people in Poland near the Ukraine border likely was not fired from within Russia, but that it is under investigation.
“There is preliminary information that contests that,” Biden said after a meeting of the Group of Seven and NATO leaders in Indonesia, when he was asked if the missile had been fired from Russia. “It is unlikely in the lines of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia, but we’ll see.”
Biden spoke with Polish President Andrzej Duda, offered full U.S. support for the investigation, and "reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO," of which Poland is a member, the White House said.
President Biden addresses reported missile strike in PolandNov. 16, 202206:12
Poland's security chiefs to meet after explosion near Ukraine border
Polish political and security leaders will meet again Wednesday to discuss the NATO member country's response to the explosion that killed two people in a rural village near the border with Ukraine on Tuesday.
The country's National Security Council will meet at noon local time (6 a.m ET), after first meeting on Tuesday night.
Before that Poland will also take part in the NATO meeting Wednesday morning, and President Andrzej Duda will meet Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other government figures.
Poland's National Security Office was already "analyzing the arrangements made so far with commanders, service chiefs and allies," Jacek Siewiera, head of the National Security Bureau, said in a tweet early Wednesday.
NATO to meet in Brussels after deadly Poland blast
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will chair a meeting of the transatlantic military alliance on Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, to address the deadly explosion in Poland.
Stoltenberg will brief the media after the meeting, in a news conference scheduled for 12.30 p.m. local time (6.30 a.m. ET)
Under Article 4 of the NATO Treaty, a member state can call for the alliance to come together to consult in the event of a security threat. All NATO decisions are taken as a consensus.
NATO, G-7 leaders offer full support to Poland
The leaders of NATO and the Group of Seven nations offered their full support for Poland following the deadly explosion near the NATO member's border with Ukraine.
The NATO and G-7 leaders said in a joint statement after an emergency meeting in Indonesia that they will remain in touch to determine "appropriate next steps as the investigation proceeds."
"We discussed the explosion that took place in the eastern part of Poland near the border with Ukraine," the statement said. "We offer our full support for and assistance with Poland’s ongoing investigation.
Poland says two killed by Russian-made missile
Two people in southeast Poland were killed by what Poland’s foreign ministry said was a Russian-made missile Tuesday afternoon.
The missile fell in the community of Przewodów, which is near the Poland-Ukraine border, around 3:40 p.m., Poland’s foreign ministry said.
“We have no evidence as of yet who fired that missile,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said, but added the projectile was Russian-made and an investigation was ongoing. Duda said “what happened was an isolated incident. There is no indication that more will take place.”
It came after Russia launched a wave of airstrikes on cities across Ukraine on Tuesday, hitting civilian infrastructure and causing widespread blackouts.