Missile Hits Poland After Crossing Ukraine Border: Reports (Updated)
The incident raises longstanding concerns about the war spilling beyond Ukraine’s borders into a NATO member nation.
Details are still coming in, but there are unconfirmed reports that at least one errant Russian missile from a missile barrage aimed at Ukraine today may have crossed the border into Poland and killed two people after hitting a farm. The War Zone's readers can get up to speed first on those strikes, which primarily targeted the Ukrainian power grid, in our initial reporting here.
Poland's Radio ZET was among the first to report on the incident, saying that two missiles had hit an area of a farm where grain was being dried in the village of Przewodów, which is situated just some five miles from the Ukrainian border. It is also around 45 miles north of the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which was among those struck today by Russian missiles.
Pictures are widely circulating on social media reportedly showing a crater and an overturned farm tractor and trailer, as well as apparent parts of a missile that were subsequently recovered. Polish police and elements of the country's military reportedly arrived afterward to secure the scene.
A U.S. intelligence official has reportedly told the AP that Russian missiles did into fly into Poland and were responsible for killing the two individuals on the farm, but provided no further details.
Polish authorities have no yet officially confirmed any details about the incident, but Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called a emergency meeting of top national security and other officials over "a crisis situation," according to Polish government spokesperson Piotr Mueller.
"We’re aware of the reports and it is something we’ll monitor," U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Garron J. Garn, a Pentagon spokesperson, told The War Zone. We have already reached out to the NATO alliance, of which Poland is a member, for comment.
Russian authorities have now denied any involvement and have decried the allegations that one or more Russian missiles struck the farm in Przewodów as a provocation, but have not provided any exculpatory evidence. If the reports of two missiles hitting the same location in Poland are indeed true, it is likely a targeting inputting error or a deliberate strike, as the possibility of two errant missiles hitting the same exact target coincidentally is extremely low.
Another possibility may be that what struck the Polish farm was a stray Ukrainian surface-to-air missile. There have been instances elsewhere in the world where errant SAMs have hit the ground after traveling very long distances after missing their intended target. Some observers have noted potential similarities between portions of the reported wreckage recovered in Poland and missiles used in the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. The Russian and Ukrainian militaries have both employed variants of the S-300 in the current conflict, and Russia's armed forces have used them as surface-to-surface weapons. Poland would seem out of range of at least known Russian S-300 units when employed against ground targets.
Back in March, a Tu-141 "Strizh" high-speed drone linked to the conflict in Ukraine also crashed in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, another NATO member.
Though the circumstances surrounding the incident in Przewodów are still very murky, fears have been brewing for months about the potential for Russia's war on Ukraine to spill over, even inadvertently, into other countries. In March, after a Russian missile strike killed at least 35 people in western Ukraine, some 15 miles from NATO member Poland, the AP reported that Poles had rushed to passport offices and stockpile essentials amid fears the war could cut off supplies. Since then the area, which serves as a primary nexus of military supplies flowing into Ukraine, has been struck repeatedly by Russian missiles.
There have been additional concerns on top of that about how NATO, as an alliance, which has collectively been a very active supplier of military aid and other assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces, might respond to such an incident. There is already much speculation surrounding the potential that Poland could invoke NATO's Article 5, which is the alliance's collective security provision, in some way, although that seems highly unlikely given NATO's repeatedly stated goals to do everything possible to avoid expanding the conflict.
Polish authorities could certainly demand an emergency consultative meeting under the provisions in NATO's Article 4, which could then lead to the deployment of additional forces to bolster the country's defensive posture. The U.S. military and other members of the alliance had already begun deploying additional air and ground forces to Poland, among other countries, even before the all-out invasion of Ukraine in February to help deter further Russian aggression. These deployments have included various air defense systems, including U.S. Army Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries.
There are some reports that two missiles hit this same location in Poland. Those claims cannot be confirmed, but if it were two missiles, it is likely a targeting inputting error or a deliberate strike, as two errant missiles hitting the same exact target is extremely low.
This is a developing story. Stay with The War Zone for updates.
Update: 5:00 PM EST
Polish government spokesperson Piotr Mueller now says that authorities in the country have taken various steps following the incident in Przewodów, the exact causes of which remain under investigation. The readiness of level of Poland's military has been raised and the country's top leadership is now considering whether or not to invoke NATO's Article 4, which had already been noted to be a distinct possibility.
Polish President Andrzej Duda is set to convene a meeting of Poland's National Security council tomorrow. He has already spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the situation.
The U.S. State Department has also now said that the U.S. government is working to confirm various details about the incident in Poland. "The United States is certainly not trying to escalate or incite a situation at all," State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a press conference today, adding that what happened was "incredibly concerning."
So far, Latvia appears to be the only NATO member to have made an official statement accusing Russia of being responsible. Slovakia's Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad' mentioned Russian missiles in a Tweet about the incident, but it is unclear if he is simply referring to the now extensive media reporting on the matter.
In a routine public address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has now said it was Russian missiles that struck Poland today, but provided no further specific information regarding the incident, which he called a "very significant escalation."
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Zelensky, has directly accused Russia of carrying out a deliberate strike on Poland "disguised as a 'mistake,'" but did not provide additional information to substantiate those claims.
At the same time, more circumstantial evidence has emerged that might point to an S-300 surface-to-air missile system, possibly one operated by Ukrainian forces, as being the culprit behind the incident in Przewodów. There is also the possibility that a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile inadvertently intercepted a Russian missile over Poland, and that the remains of one or both of those weapons then hit the farm. Unfortunately, right now, with the information available, it is simply too hard to say with any certainty.
Update: 6:45 PM EST
Poland's Foreign Ministry has now formally summoned the Russian Ambassador to the country to answer questions about the incident in Przewodów. An accompanying official statement from the ministry stops short of specifically blaming Russia, very carefully describing what landed on the farm as "a Russian-made missile" and mentions, but does not draw a direct link the missile barrage Ukraine was subjected to earlier in the day.
In a televised address to his country, Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki has also now appealed for calm and warned citizens to be wary of potential Russian propaganda and misinformation. "Chaos is Russia's weapon of choice," he added.
Furthermore, Morawiecki confirmed that NATO ambassadors will hold an emergency session tomorrow regarding this incident on the basis of the alliance's Article 4. The readiness of certain elements of the Polish military has already been raised, to include more significant monitoring of the country's airspace, the Prime Minister said.
Polish President Duda said in his own televised remarks that authorities in the country still have no definitive evidence about who fired the missile the hit Przewodów.
Separately, the White House has confirmed that President Joe Biden has now spoken to Polish President Duda and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg about the incident. Biden has offered American assistance with the ongoing investigation.
Update: 9:20 PM EST
When asked at the G-20 summit in Bali if it was "too early to say whether this missile was fired from Russia," President Joe Biden said: "There is preliminary information that contests that. I don't want to say that until we completely investigate it. It's unlikely, in the minds of the trajectory, that it was fired from Russia. But we'll see."
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