US President Joe Biden said Wednesday it was “unlikely” that a missile that killed two in NATO ally Poland was fired from Russian territory, but he pledged support for Poland’s investigation into what it had called a “Russian-made” missile.
Western leaders were scrambling to respond to the potentially major escalation of the war in Ukraine after the strike in the eastern part of Poland near the Ukrainian border.
Biden spoke after he convened an “emergency” meeting of the Group of Seven and NATO leaders in Indonesia Wednesday morning for consultations on the attack.
“There is preliminary information that contests that,” Biden told reporters 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.”
It was not immediately clear whether Biden was suggesting that the missile hadn’t been fired by Russia at all. Ukraine still maintains stocks of former Soviet and Russian-made weaponry, including the S-300 air-defense missile system.
Three US officials said preliminary assessments suggested the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian one amid the crushing salvo against Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
That assessment and Biden’s comments contradict information earlier Tuesday from a senior US intelligence official who told the AP that Russian missiles crossed into Poland.
The explosion in Poland, a NATO member, immediately sparked concerns that the alliance might be drawn into Russia’s nearly nine-month war against Western-backed Ukraine.
Poland’s foreign ministry earlier summoned Russia’s ambassador to Warsaw to give “immediate detailed explanations” over the strike, and Poland is expected to request urgent consultations under Article 4 of the NATO Treaty on Wednesday.
Article 4 allows consultations to be called when any NATO member feels their “territorial integrity, political independence or security” are at risk.
Biden, who was awakened overnight by staff with the news of the missile explosion while in Indonesia for the Group of 20 summit, called Polish President Andrzej Duda early Wednesday to express his “deep condolences” for the loss of life. Biden promised on Twitter “full US support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation,” and “reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO.”
Biden said he briefed the allies on his conversations with Duda and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and that there was “Total unanimity among the folks at the table” to support Poland’s investigation into the attack.
“I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened,” Biden said. “And then we’re going to collectively determine our next step as we investigate.”
Meeting at a large round table in a ballroom in his hotel, the US president hosted the leaders of the G-7, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union, along with the president of the European Council and the prime ministers of NATO allies Spain and the Netherlands.
NEW: Footage reported to show the immediate aftermath of the explosion in Poland today pic.twitter.com/vTsbg0CpYX
— Faytuks News Δ (@Faytuks) November 15, 2022
A statement from the Polish Foreign Ministry identified the missile as being made in Russia. But Poland’s president, Duda, was more cautious about its origin, saying that officials did not know for sure who fired it or where it was made.
Duda said it was “most probably” Russian-made, but that is being still verified.
If confirmed, it would be the first time since the invasion of Ukraine that a Russian weapon came down on a NATO country.
The foundation of the NATO alliance is the principle that an attack against one member is an attack on them all, making the source of the missile launch critical for determining next steps.
Biden also said the leaders condemned “the latest series of Russian missile attacks,” referring to the confirmed Russian strikes in recent days that have targeted Ukraine’s power grid and caused widespread blackouts.
“The moment when the world came together at the G-20 to urge de-escalation, Russia continues to escalate in Ukraine, while we’re meeting,” Biden said. “There were scores and scores of missile attacks in western Ukraine.”
Biden and his allies had set out to isolate Russia at the G-20 summit and the group’s final communique was expected to show that “most” of the nations in the G-20 condemn Russia’s invasion.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied being behind “any strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border” and said in a statement that photos of purported damage “have nothing to do” with Russian weapons.
“Polish mass media and officials commit deliberate provocation to escalate situation with their statement on alleged impact of ‘Russian’ rockets at Przewodow,” Russia’s defense ministry said in statements posted online.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that it was “absolutely essential” to avoid further escalation in Ukraine.
Poland put some military units on a heightened state of readiness after the blast, a government spokesman said.
“There has been a decision to raise the state of readiness of some combat units and other uniformed services,” spokesman Piotr Muller said.
The projectile hit the village of Przewodów, near the border with Ukraine, as Russia pounded Ukrainian energy facilities with its biggest barrage of missiles yet, striking targets across the country and causing widespread blackouts.
Zelensky said Russia fired at least 85 missiles, most of them aimed at the country’s power facilities, and blacked out many cities.
With its battlefield losses mounting, Russia has increasingly resorted to targeting Ukraine’s power grid, seemingly hoping to turn the approach of winter into a weapon by leaving people in the cold and dark.
Moldova, which borders Ukraine, was also apparently affected by the Russian strikes. Moldova reported massive power outages after the attacks knocked out a key power line that supplies the small nation, an official said.