The Polish government said a Russian-made missile killed two of its citizens Tuesday near the border with Ukraine, but U.S. President Joe Biden said that it was “unlikely” that it was launched from Russia.
Polish leaders convened an emergency security and defense meeting and agreed to increase its military readiness.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded an explanation for the deadly blast in Przewodów, a settlement near the southeastern town of Hrubieszów.
"There was an explosion in Przewodów, as a result of which two of our compatriots lost their lives," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said after the meeting. "My thoughts are with their families, with their loved ones.”
Morawiecki said Poland intends to boost "the combat readiness of selected units of the Polish armed forces, with particular emphasis on airspace monitoring."
There was also, Morawiecki said, talk of triggering Article 4 of the NATO charter, under which Poland would be able to summon other member states for crash talks if it feels its territorial integrity or security has been threatened.
But Polish President Andrzej Duda, in an apparent bid to lower tensions, also stressed that the government is not yet sure whether Russia fired the missile.
"We have no evidence as of yet who fired that missile," Duda said. "It was a Russian-made rocket, but the investigation is ongoing.”
Whether intentional or by mistake, the revelation raised fears that President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine could spread and escalate a regional conflict into a wider war.
Early Wednesday, Biden called an “emergency” meeting of the Group of Seven and NATO leaders who were gathered in Indonesia to discuss the attack in Poland hours earlier.
“There is preliminary information that contests that,” Biden said after then meeting when 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.”
Earlier, Biden discussed the crisis with his Polish counterpart and expressed his condolences.
"President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO," the official White House readout said.
On Twitter, Biden promised “full U.S support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation.”
Duda also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who voiced support for Poland, one of his country's staunchest allies.
"All of Europe and the world must be fully protected from terrorist Russia," he tweeted.
Russia pushed back after the allegations soon after the reports emerged.
“The statements of the Polish media and officials about the alleged fall of ‘Russian’ missiles in the area of the settlement of Przewodow, is a deliberate provocation in order to escalate the situation,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement on Telegram, referring to the village widely reported to have been hit.
The increasingly urgent situation came as Russia launched an intense wave of airstrikes on cities across Ukraine on Tuesday, forcing widespread blackouts and hitting residential buildings in the capital, Kyiv.
The barrage also targeted key cities from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the northeast, pounding energy infrastructure and knocking out power to vast areas in one of the largest coordinated attacks of the war.
“It is only a matter of time before Russian terror goes further. The longer Russia feels impunity, the more threats there will be to anyone within reach of Russian missiles,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram. “This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”
The prospect of Russian missiles’ possibly hitting Poland, a member of NATO, triggered fears that the war in Ukraine could intensify sharply.
“We can and should do everything possible to come to Poland’s defense,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told NBC News. “I hope the Russians will promptly take responsibility, identify this as a mistake, if it is in fact a mistake, provide compensation and commit to no more strikes within some buffer of the border.”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary general, tweeted that he "offered my condolences for the loss of life" to Polish leaders and that NATO is "monitoring the situation and Allies are closely consulting."
Some alliance members expressed support of Poland and said they were in contact with the country’s leaders.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, whose country borders Poland, tweeted that “every inch of NATO territory must be defended!”
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala posted on Twitter: “If Poland confirms that the missiles also hit its territory, this will be a further escalation by Russia. We stand firmly behind our EU and NATO ally.”
Fellow NATO member Estonia, which for decades was part of the Soviet Union and has in recent years warned of Russian expansionism, called the news “most concerning.”
“We are consulting closely with Poland and other allies. Estonia is ready to defend every inch of NATO territory,” the country’s foreign minister said on Twitter. “We’re in full solidarity with our close ally Poland.”