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Poland suggests Russian-made missile killed 2 inside its borders

Nov. 15, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 15, 2022 at 7:04 p.m.

By Marc Santora and Maria Varenikova New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Poland said early Wednesday that an explosion that killed two people at a grain-processing plant near the Ukrainian border had “most likely” been caused by a Russian-made missile, raising the prospect that the NATO alliance would be drawn more directly into the war in Ukraine.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the missile had been Russian-made, but President Andrzej Duda was not as definitive, telling reporters, “It was most likely a Russian-made missile, but this is all still under investigation at the moment.”

He added, “We do not have any conclusive evidence at the moment as to who launched this missile.” Both the Ukrainian and Russian armies employ Soviet-era armaments.

Zbigniew Rau, Poland’s foreign minister, said in a statement that he had summoned Moscow’s ambassador to provide “immediate detailed explanations” for the episode.

Poland, a NATO member, also said it would likely invoke Article 4 of the NATO charter, under which members confer when a nation’s territorial integrity or security has been threatened.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a post on Telegram, the messaging application, that any statements about Russian missiles hitting the Polish village were a “deliberate provocation.”

“No strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish state border were made,” the ministry said.

The explosion on Tuesday, in the village of Przewodow, about 4 miles from the border with Ukraine, came on a day of heavy Russian bombardment. The blast’s proximity to the border raised the possibility that it might have been the result of an errant missile or the remains of one that had been targeted by Ukraine’s air-defense systems, analysts said.

Hours before Rau released his statement, Polish leaders convened a meeting of the National Security Council in response to a “crisis situation,” a government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, told reporters. Polish leaders also said that some military units had been placed on higher alert and other special procedures put in place.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine was quick to seize on the episode, calling it evidence of “a very significant escalation.” Alluding to Poland’s membership in NATO, he accused Russia of an “attack on collective security.”

Western leaders expressed support for Poland but initially struck a note of caution; NATO members, including Poland, have pledged to defend one another.

“We cannot confirm the reports or any of the details at this time,” Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said earlier Tuesday. “We will determine what happened and what the appropriate next steps would be.”

But faced with the prospect that the war in Ukraine had spilled into a third country, NATO ambassadors planned to meet in Brussels on Wednesday morning to discuss the situation, according to two diplomats from NATO countries who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And a top European Union official, Charles Michel, urged EU leaders attending a Group of 20 summit in Indonesia to hold their own meeting to discuss the events in Poland.

President Joe Biden, who is at the G-20 meeting, spoke with Duda and offered U.S. support for the investigation into the explosion. Biden then spoke with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary-general. The president joined an emergency meeting of leaders of the wealthy Group of 7 nations on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on Wednesday morning to discuss the situation in Poland. A White House video feed showed Biden sitting silently between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada. Asked by reporters if he would offer an update on the explosion, Biden replied, “No.”

The explosion in Poland came on a day when Russian missiles rained across Ukraine, including on Lviv, which is not far from the border and about 50 miles from the Polish village, with Russian forces launching one of their broadest aerial assaults against Ukraine since the war began.

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s Western allies, including the United States, have sought to keep the fighting limited to Ukrainian territory and avoid direct confrontation between the NATO alliance and Russia, even as they have supplied a steady stream of weapons to Kyiv.

If the missile barrage on Tuesday was intended as a message to Ukrainians not to rejoice too much over their recent victory in Kherson, the southern city from which Moscow was forced to retreat over the weekend, it also appeared intended for a broader audience: the leaders gathered in Bali, Indonesia, for the G-20 summit.

On Tuesday, G-20 leaders urged an end to the war, which has fueled food insecurity and high inflation. But in a remote address to the gathering, Zelenskyy suggested that the fighting would not end soon. He repeated his demands that Moscow be held accountable for violations of international law, and said Ukraine would not end its resistance until its territory was reinstated.

“Every day of delay means new deaths of Ukrainians, new threats to the world and an insane increase in losses due to continuation of the Russian aggression — losses for everyone in the world,” Zelenskyy said.

Air raid sirens began sounding Tuesday in a country still elated over the retaking of Kherson, which had fallen to Russia soon after it invaded. A day earlier, in an unannounced visit to the newly liberated city, Zelenskyy declared, “This is the beginning of the end of the war.”

But still, on Tuesday, the cascade of Russian missiles sought their marks in Ukraine, knocking out power to some 7 million people.

“These are what our Russian brothers do for us,” a 66-year-old Kyiv woman said after a missile fragment transformed her kitchen into an inferno, killed a neighbor and drove at least 70 families from their homes. “These are our ‘liberators.’”

With Ukraine steadily building momentum on the battlefield in recent months, and with the loss of Kherson — an especially stinging blow — Ukrainian and Western officials have been warning that Russia would step up its efforts to break Ukrainians’ resolve.

On Tuesday, Russian missiles hit at least six regions, including Kyiv, the capital, and once again seemed intent on knocking out power to civilians. Fifteen pieces of energy infrastructure were damaged, officials said, and it was the largest coordinated strike on the energy system since the star of the war, said Herman Halushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister.

Explosions were also reported in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv; the western city of Lviv; and others, officials said. Air raid sirens also sounded in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

(BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.)

Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian air force, said the barrage surpassed the 84 rockets that Russia launched on Oct. 10, the beginning of its assault on Ukrainian infrastructure.

But as in earlier attacks, Ukraine’s air-defense systems appeared to have knocked out a substantial number of the missiles. Seventy were shot down Tuesday, the country’s air force claimed.

Still, others found their targets, and Ukrainian officials scrambled to repair the damage.

Kharkiv’s mayor, Igor Terekhov, said that city workers were trying to restore power, while Serhiy Gamalii, an official with the military administration in Khmelnytskyi, said electrical service was knocked out there, too.

(END OPTIONAL TRIM.)

The effects of the strikes also crossed into another Ukraine neighbor, Moldova. Parts of that country, which is closely linked to Ukraine’s power grid, lost service, though many localities were soon reconnected, the Moldovan government said.

(STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.)

In Bali, G-20 leaders gathered in the shadow of a war being waged half a world away.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, did not attend. His foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was there in Putin’s place.

President Xi Jinping of China, an increasingly close ally of Russia, did not directly mention the war in his remarks, but referred to the tense geopolitical environment and the disrupted supply chains for food and energy.

“All countries should replace division with unity,” Xi said, according to a transcript from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Some saw no coincidence in the timing of a Russian missile barrage on a day that G-20 leaders met.

“Does anyone seriously think that the Kremlin really wants peace?” Andriy Yermak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, said on Twitter. “It wants obedience. But at the end of the day, terrorists always lose.”

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