Poland has convened emergency talks with its Nato allies after two of its citizens were killed by what Warsaw said was a “Russian-made missile” strike in the countryside near its border with Ukraine.
The Polish foreign ministry said the two people died in the village of Przewodów after the missile hit at 3.40pm local time on Tuesday. Photographs posted on social media showed a damaged farm vehicle lying on its side next to a large crater. Local media reported the casualties were farm workers.
Poland’s president and prime minister did not confirm that the missile was fired by Russia during a midnight news conference in which they both appeared to avoid statements that could escalate tensions with Moscow.
“There is no conclusive evidence about who fired the rocket,” said President Andrzej Duda after an emergency security meeting of the Polish government. Duda also referred to the missile strike as a “one-off incident”.
If Poland’s investigation confirms that the missile was fired by Russia, it would be the first strike on a Nato country since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Poland will discuss the missile strike with its Nato allies on Wednesday. Duda said that Poland would “most likely” trigger Article 4 of the Nato treaty, which concerns discussions on a potential threat to an alliance member, before considering Article 5, which would require other Nato members to come to its defence.
Russia’s defence ministry denied responsibility, adding claims the missile was fired by its forces were a “deliberate provocation with the goal of escalating the situation”. The Polish foreign minister summoned the Russian ambassador for “immediate detailed explanations”, while Poland’s representative to the UN wrote on Twitter that he would raise the issue at the Security Council.
The White House said President Joe Biden, who is in Bali, Indonesia, for the G20 summit, was “briefed on the reports out of Poland” and spoke to Duda. But both the Pentagon and the US National Security Council said they could not corroborate claims Russia was behind the strike.
Biden offered “full US support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation” and reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment to Nato,” according to the White House.
The US president, along with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, plus the presidents of the European Council and European Commission, met for an emergency meeting in Bali on Wednesday morning, a person present told the Financial Times.
The explosion in eastern Poland came amid a Russian barrage of missiles fired on Ukrainian cities that damaged energy infrastructure as well as civilian buildings.
Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, were quick to blame Russia for the Polish strike, though they offered no specific evidence to back the claims.
“Russian missiles hit Poland,” Zelenskyy said in a video address on Tuesday evening, adding that Moscow had launched 90 missiles targeting Ukraine.
After speaking with Duda, Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that “Ukraine, Poland, all of Europe and the world must be fully protected from terrorist Russia”.
Leaders of several Nato countries in central and eastern Europe warned that the strike would mark a significant escalation of the conflict if the Polish investigation proved the Kremlin was behind the attack.
Two Nato officials told the FT that the situation had provoked concern but not panic within the alliance.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Warsaw would “increase the preparedness of selected units of the Polish armed forces with particular emphasis on airspace monitoring” and with assistance from the country’s allies. Duda said that “all the leaders I spoke to today absolutely assured me of allied support”, adding that “we will consider this matter together”.
Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defence minister, wrote on Twitter that Article 4 was “in place”.
In a further sign of potential for the conflict to spill over, Moldova reported on Tuesday that it had lost electricity after the missile strikes in Ukraine, as a power line linking the two countries had automatically been disconnected.
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defence minister, called on the west to provide further air defence systems to protect the country against Russian strikes.
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington and Henry Foy in Bali