NATO and its allies, including the United States, have said they are investigating “concerning” reports that Russian missiles were responsible for a deadly explosion in Poland near the border with Ukraine.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said Washington was seeking to “corroborate” reports in Polish media that Russian missiles had landed in Poland’s eastern village of Przewodow, killing two.
“I don’t want to speculate or get in hypotheticals,” Ryder told reporters when asked about the US stance on aiding a NATO ally in the event of an attack.
“When it comes to our security commitments and Article Five, we’ve been crystal clear that we will defend every inch of NATO territory,” Ryder said, referring to the collective defence pact in NATO, which states that an attack on any member of the alliance is an attack on all.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also said he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda and that the alliance was monitoring the situation and consulting with its allies.
“Important that all facts are established,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
Spoke with President Duda @prezydentpl about the explosion in #Poland. I offered my condolences for the loss of life. #NATO is monitoring the situation and Allies are closely consulting. Important that all facts are established.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) November 15, 2022
If confirmed, the strike would represent the first time a Russian missile has landed in a country other than Ukraine since Russia launched an invasion of its neighbour on February 24. The reports on Tuesday spurred widespread concern and calls to determine exactly what happened.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Kyiv, said it was possible the missiles had “missed their targets, overshot their targets, or were pushed off course by Ukrainian air defences”.
“But I think we need to be very, very careful about speculating along those lines until the details of the attack become clearer,” Hull said.
Russia’s defence ministry swiftly denied the reports, calling them “a deliberate provocation aimed at escalating the situation”. “No strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish state border were made by Russian means of destruction,” it said in a statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told the Reuters news agency that he had no information about the explosion.
For its part, Poland called emergency meetings of its national security council and cabinet immediately after the reports emerged in response to what government spokesman Piotr Muller described as the “crisis situation”.
The Polish government increased the readiness of some of its military units and it is determining whether to request consultations with allies under Article 4 of the NATO treaty, Muller told reporters.
He added that relevant information will be presented to the public later and called on media not to publish “unverified information” in the meantime.
Wave of concern
Condemnation and concern swiftly rolled in from across Europe after the news broke, with many officials accusing Russia of being responsible for the incident.
Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Artis Pabriks said on Twitter that Russia “fired missiles which target not only Ukrainian civilians but also landed on NATO territory in Poland”.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a NATO summit that would include Ukraine to issue a “tough” collective response to Russia, while also urging Kyiv’s allies to provide the country with advanced weaponry and aircraft.
“Today, protecting Ukraine’s skies means protecting NATO,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, officials from Norway, Lithuania and Estonia – all NATO members – said they were trying to find out more information.
“This is a very serious incident but much remains unclear,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said, according to Norwegian news agency NTB.
The tone in Washington, DC, was also cautious, with White House National Security spokesperson Adrienne Watson tweeting that the Biden administration would “determine what happened and what the appropriate next steps would be”.
US Department of State spokesperson Vedant Patel called the reports “incredibly concerning” but added the question of whether the reported strikes were intentional or accidental “would be of importance”.
The White House said President Joe Biden also spoke with his Polish counterpart, Duda, and was briefed on the situation.
The reported explosion on Tuesday came amid a wave of Russian strikes across Ukraine that Kyiv called the heaviest in nearly nine months of war.
Bombings were reported in Lviv, which is less than 80km (50 miles) from the border with Poland.
European Union chief Charles Michel said he was “shocked by the news of a missile or other ammunition having killed people on Polish territory”.
“We stand with Poland. I am in contact with Polish authorities, members of the European Council and other allies,” he wrote, adding later that he would propose a meeting on Wednesday with EU leaders at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
Just spoke with @MorawieckiM.
Assured him of full EU unity and solidarity in support of Poland.
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) November 15, 2022