JEDDAH: World leaders on Wednesday stepped back from the brink of a potentially devastating escalation in the Ukraine war after an overnight crisis sparked by an apparent attack on NATO member Poland.
Two people died when a missile struck a grain facility in the village of Przewodow near the Polish border with Ukraine.
NATO doctrine holds that an attack on one member is an attack on all, and there were fears that Russian involvement in the strike could drag the Western military alliance into direct confrontation with Moscow.
However, both NATO and Warsaw said on Wednesday that the missile that hit Poland was probably a stray fired by Ukraine’s air defenses and not a Russian strike.
Nevertheless, NATO’s chief said Moscow was ultimately to blame for starting the war in the first place and launching the attack that triggered Ukrainian defenses.
“This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. NATO ambassadors were holding emergency talks to respond to the missile blast.
“From the information that we and our allies have, it was an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket, and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said. “It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses.”
The incident occurred while Russia was firing scores of missiles at cities across Ukraine in the most intense barrage of the nine-month war.
Kyiv says it shot down most of the incoming Russian missiles with its own air defense systems.
The Russian Defense Ministry said none of its missiles had struck closer than 35 km from the Polish border, and that photos of the wreckage in Poland showed elements of a Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile.
The conclusion that the missile was Ukrainian brought some relief to the inhabitants of the Polish village where it struck, who said they had feared being dragged into the war.
“Everyone has in the back of the head that we are right near the border and that an armed conflict with Russia would expose us directly,” local mayor Grzegorz Drewnik said. “If this is a mistake by the Ukrainians, there should be no major consequences.”
Moscow launched Tuesday’s wave of missile attacks just days after abandoning the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital it had captured since the invasion.