Russian officials have lashed out at Western leaders following NATO’s admission that a Russian-made missile struck a farm on the Polish side of the Ukrainian border Tuesday in a “likely” accident by Ukraine’s missile defense system.
Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, made the announcement Wednesday on the back of emergency talks in Brussels.
“This is not Ukraine’s fault,” Stoltenberg told reporters from NATO headquarters in Brussels. “Russia bears ultimately responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda echoed that, saying: “Ukraine’s defense was launching their missiles in various directions and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory.”
“There is nothing, absolutely nothing to suggest that it was an intentional attack on Poland,” he said.
Polish authorities had initially suggested the missile had been fired from inside Russia.
The accident, which killed two people and is still under investigation in Poland, set off a chain reaction among European NATO countries close to the battlefield in Ukraine, with the alliance putting many bases across the region on alert in case leaders decided to trigger Article V, which allows for military protection to any alliance member, which Poland is.
The direct hit in Europe also sparked a wave of diplomatic responses, with a slew of warnings to Russia, even before the investigation was complete.
Poland summoned the Russian ambassador, though the meeting lasted just four minutes, according to the Polish government.
As plans to invoke NATO articles of protection simmered Wednesday, Russian officials used the opportunity to accuse the West of “Russophobia” and portray itself as the victim, even as NATO leaders stressed that Ukraine would never have been forced to use its own missile defenses if Moscow had not been lobbing dozens of missiles at its civilians.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted Russia bears no responsibility whatsoever.
“Russia has nothing to do with the incident in Poland,” he said, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
He went on to accuse Western leaders of having a “hysterical” and “frenzied” reaction to the missile incident, save for U.S. President Joe Biden, whom he lauded for what he described as a “measured response.”
Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, went so far as to demand that Poland apologize to Russia.
“Don’t the Polish agencies that allowed themselves anti-Russian attacks and called Ambassador Andreyev at midnight want to apologize?” she wrote on Telegram.
Stoltenberg reiterated that while there was “no indication” that Russia was planning any attack on NATO allies, the inherent danger of war meant that NATO countries would beef up their defense strategies close to Ukraine, which includes providing more air defense to Ukraine to avoid additional accidents. Germany immediately offered to send its own military planes to patrol the Polish borders, if Poland requests such assistance.
NATO once again backed away from Ukraine’s request to close air space over the country.
“Only Russia is responsible for the war in Ukraine and massive missile strikes. Only Russia is behind the rapidly growing risks for the border countries,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted as NATO representatives met behind closed doors. “No need to look for excuses and postpone key decisions. Time for Europe to ‘close the sky over Ukraine’.”
The NATO chief said he did not know where the missile that the Ukraine defense system tried to intercept struck, but underscored that Tuesday was one of Russia’s most aggressive days in the war as they focused on knocking out key infrastructure systems in Ukraine.