Russia ultimately to blame for Poland missile blasts, say Western officials

By Caravanserai and AFP

An aerial view taken on November 17 shows the site where a missile strike killed two men in the eastern Polish village of Przewodow, near the border with war-ravaged Ukraine. [Wojtek Radwanski, Damien Simonart/AFP]

An aerial view taken on November 17 shows the site where a missile strike killed two men in the eastern Polish village of Przewodow, near the border with war-ravaged Ukraine. [Wojtek Radwanski, Damien Simonart/AFP]

A host of Western officials say that while the missiles that hit Poland earlier this week were not Russian, the Kremlin is ultimately responsible for the deadly blasts, saying it occurred as Moscow's forces target Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure.

Initial reports blamed Russian missiles for the explosion Tuesday (November 15), which killed two people and raised fears of a major escalation of the Ukraine conflict, but Poland later said it was likely caused by a stray surface-to-air missile fired by Kyiv's forces.

"We'll continue to work closely with our ally Poland and others to gather more information, and we'll continue to consult closely with our NATO allies and our valued partners," US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday as he opened a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, which is made up of dozens of countries that back Kyiv.

"What we do know is the context in which this is unfolding. Russia is facing setback after setback on the battlefield, and Russia is putting Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure in its gunsights," he added.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who was also to take part in the Ukraine contact group meeting, was more direct in blaming Russia, saying: "This is not Ukraine's fault."

"Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine," he said after chairing a meeting of NATO ambassadors.

Addressing reporters at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bangkok, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that he had spoken again with his Ukrainian counterpart on the probe but added: "Whatever its final conclusion, we already know the party ultimately responsible for this tragic incident -- Russia."

"What we are seeing every single day now is Russia raining missiles down on Ukraine, seeking to destroy its critical infrastructure, targeting the ability that Ukraine has to keep the lights on, to keep the heat going, to allow the country simply to live and move forward," he said.

Raining down missiles

The explosion in eastern Poland came as Russia launched dozens of missile strikes across Ukraine on Tuesday, which Kyiv said knocked out power to millions of people.

Building multilayer air defences to protect against such strikes is a key goal of Ukraine's allies, who have provided various missile systems to Kyiv.

Austin on Wednesday said the advanced NASAMS systems Washington has sent are now in operation in Ukraine.

"Our NASAMS air defence systems are now operational, and they have had 100% success rate in interrupting Russian missiles as the Kremlin continues its ruthless bombardment of Ukraine, including yesterday's attacks," he said.

"We share the view that Russia bears full responsibility for its missile terror and its consequences on the territory of Ukraine, Poland and Moldova," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda called it an "unfortunate accident", saying that while the projectile likely originated from Ukraine's air defences, the blame lay with Russia because of its attacks.

"Nothing indicates that this was an intentional attack against Poland," said Duda.

European Union diplomats meeting in Brussels praised Warsaw, one of Ukraine's closest friends and Russia's fiercest foes, for its measured response.

Stoltenberg said NATO had ramped up its defences along its eastern flank in response to the war in Ukraine and denied that the alliance's air defences had failed.

The NATO chief said Poland had not invoked Article 4 of the Western alliance's treaty, which would have obliged members to discuss whether "the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened".

NATO's most powerful member, the United States, has hundreds of troops in Poland and leads the West in supplying weapons to support Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government in Kyiv.

'War crime'

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and still holds swathes of territory despite a series of recent battlefield defeats.

The conflict has caused deep unease in neighbouring Poland, which shares a 530km-long border with Ukraine and where memories of Soviet domination remain raw.

Gen. Mark Milley, the top US military officer, said the recent strikes may have been the heaviest of the war and condemned the targeting of civilian infrastructure.

"The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population, is a war crime," Milley said.

The strikes, which left at least one person dead in the capital Kyiv, caused widespread power cuts in Ukraine as well as in neighbouring Moldova.

The blackouts temporarily cut Europe's largest nuclear power facility -- Zaporizhzhia -- as well as other, smaller plants from accessing off-site electricity.

"Yesterday's power loss clearly demonstrates that the nuclear safety and security situation in Ukraine can suddenly take a turn for the worse, increasing the risk of a nuclear emergency," Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Wednesday.

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