Ukraine and western allies at odds over missile that exploded in Poland

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A disagreement broke out on Wednesday between Ukraine and its western allies over who launched a missile that exploded in Poland, with Nato, Warsaw and the US saying the weapon was likely fired by Kyiv’s air defence forces during a Russian attack.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy disputed this, insisting he had “no doubt” the missile that landed in the village of Przewodów near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday afternoon, killing two people, was not a Ukrainian missile.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, told a press conference in Brussels there was “no indication” that the missile attack was a “deliberate attack” by Moscow. He added the western military alliance had “no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against Nato”.

“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks,” he said.

However, he added: “This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears responsibility for what happened in Poland yesterday because this is a direct result of the ongoing war, and the wave of attacks from Russia against Ukraine yesterday.

“Ukraine has the right to shoot down those missiles that are targeting Ukrainian cities and critical Ukrainian infrastructure.”

Map showing Przewodów in Poland after suspected Russian missile kills 2 people

Andrzej Duda, Poland’s president, told a press conference in Poland on Wednesday that investigators believed that “most likely” it had been a Russian-made missile produced in the 1970s, the S300. “We have no evidence that it was launched by Russia.”

The White House backed Warsaw’s view. “We have seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defence missile that unfortunately landed in Poland,” US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

Zelenskyy and some western nations initially blamed Russia for launching the weapon, which was fired during Moscow’s biggest missile attack in weeks, and Ukraine’s leader maintained this stance on Wednesday.

“I have no doubt from the evening report to me personally — from the commander of the air force to commander-in-chief [of Ukraine’s military Gen Valerii] Zaluzhny — that it was not our missile or our missile strike,” he said on Wednesday evening. “It makes no sense for me not to trust them, I’ve gone through the war with them.”

The president also repeated calls by his national security chief, Oleksiy Danilov, for Ukrainian investigators to be given access to the crash site.

“If, God forbid, some [missile] debris killed these people, we have to apologise,” he said. “But, sorry, first [I want] an investigation, access, the data you have — we want to have this.”

Responding to Zelensky’s comments, a diplomat from a Nato country in Kyiv told the Financial Times: “This is getting ridiculous. The Ukrainians are destroying [our] confidence in them. Nobody is blaming Ukraine and they are openly lying. This is more destructive than the missile.”

The area around the strike, which local media said used to be an agriculture co-operative during the communist era, was cordoned off by Poland’s authorities. Residents were quoted in the Polish press as saying the victims were farm workers in their 60s.

Photos on social media showed a damaged vehicle lying next to a large crater.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Wednesday that the initial claims of Moscow’s responsibility from Kyiv and some western allies were “yet another hysterical, rabidly Russophobic reaction that was not based on any real information”. 

Russia insisted it did not fire on any targets close to Poland’s border and said any damage to civilians was Kyiv’s fault.

The defence ministry said it had not even fired on Kyiv during the day’s barrage, and said the incident in Poland was a “deliberate provocation with the goal of escalating the situation”.

In his press conference, Stoltenberg declined to give details of what led to the incident, stressing it remained subject to an investigation, but he confirmed that preliminary analysis pointed to a Ukrainian air defence system.

“This incident does not have the characteristics of an attack,” he said, adding that it had not changed Nato’s fundamental assessment of the threat to the alliance. A top priority was to provide more air defence systems to Ukraine.

Sam Fleming in Brussels, Raphael Minder and Barbara Erling in Warsaw, Christopher Miller, Felicia Schwartz and Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv and Max Seddon in Riga

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