NATO and Poland say deadly blast was likely unintentional
By Steven Erlanger and Marc Santora
Poland’s president said Wednesday that a Ukrainian air defense missile had most likely caused a deadly explosion in his country a day earlier, calling it an “unfortunate accident” and easing fears that his country and its NATO allies could be drawn into a direct conflict with Russia.
President Andrzej Duda said early indications suggested that Ukrainian efforts to counter a barrage of roughly 100 Russian missiles had been the cause of the blast on Tuesday — not a direct attack on his country.
“We have no evidence at the moment that it was a rocket launched by Russian forces,” Duda told reporters. “However, there are many indications that it was a missile that was used by Ukraine’s antimissile defense.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after meeting with the alliance’s envoys that a preliminary analysis also suggested that a Ukrainian missile was responsible for the explosion, but that a fuller investigation was still underway. He stressed that there was no indication of a deliberate attack by Russia or of any Russian plans to attack a NATO ally — meaning that NATO’s commitment to collective defense was not at issue.
But even if the missile was Ukrainian, he said the blame belonged to Russia.
“Let me be clear. This is not Ukraine’s fault,” Stoltenberg said. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
The White House said it has “full confidence” in Poland’s investigation and has “seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment.”
“That said, 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,” the White House said in a statement. “Ukraine had — and has — every right to defend itself.”
Initial reports had suggested the explosion might have been caused by a Russian missile, which prompted intense discussions and even some panic over whether Russia had somehow attacked a NATO ally, possible grounds to invoke the alliance’s mutual defense clause, known as Article 5. But the results of the investigation so far seemed to tamp down concerns that the explosion would rapidly escalate the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, however, was unconvinced by the initial findings, saying he believed a Russian missile was involved.
“I have no doubt that it was not our missile,” he told Ukrainian news outlets on Wednesday. He added: “If it was the use of our air defense, then I want that evidence.”
Earlier Wednesday, Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Kyiv was “expecting information” from its “partners” on the preliminary findings and requesting access to the site.
Russia had denied responsibility and said that it did not aim any missiles near the border with Poland on Tuesday.
Key details on what transpired have yet to be clarified. There are questions about the trajectory of the missile in question and whether it might have been aiming at or had hit a Russian missile. Investigators will also focus on what the debris from Poland shows.
Belgium’s defense minister, Ludivine Dedonder, said in a Twitter message that “pieces of Russian missiles and a Ukrainian interception missile are said to have landed in Poland.” She said this was “to be confirmed by ongoing investigations.”
Duda said that “preliminary examination of the scene indicates that there was no classic rocket explosion there, but that it was the result of the rocket’s fall, perhaps in conjunction with the explosion of the fuel that remained.”
He also emphasized that the events in Poland had come amid a “massive, unprecedented” Russian attack on Ukraine.
“Ukraine defended itself — which is obvious and understandable — also by firing missiles whose task was to knock down Russian missiles,” he said. “Therefore, we were dealing with a very serious clash caused by the Russian side, as well as the entire conflict. Yesterday’s clash is certainly borne by the Russian side.”