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NATO Chief: Poland Explosion Likely Ukrainian Air Defense Missile

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the NATO headquarters, Nov. 16, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday an explosion in eastern Poland near the Ukrainian border was “likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.”

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Stoltenberg said all NATO allies agreed with the assessment, which was based on preliminary analysis, and that an investigation was ongoing.

“But let me be clear: this is not Ukraine's fault,” Stoltenberg said. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine."

The NATO chief said the best way to prevent a similar incident in the future is for Russia to stop its fighting in Ukraine.

He declined to provide additional details when asked if a Ukrainian missile had actually intercepted a Russian missile in the area or if fragments from a Russian missile were found on the ground. Stoltenberg told reporters NATO would later decide how much to reveal from its investigation.

Polish President Andrzej Duda also said Wednesday there was “nothing to suggest” an intentional Russian attack against his country.

“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," Duda said.

The debris, which the locals claim to be that of a missile, is pictured at the site of an explosion in Przewodow, a village in eastern Poland near the border with Ukraine, Nov. 16, 2022.
The debris, which the locals claim to be that of a missile, is pictured at the site of an explosion in Przewodow, a village in eastern Poland near the border with Ukraine, Nov. 16, 2022.

Earlier Wednesday, leaders of NATO and the Group of Seven met for an emergency meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali to discuss the incident.

“We agreed to support Poland’s investigation into the explosion in rural Poland near the Ukrainian border,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters after the meeting. “And I’m going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened.”

In a hastily arranged emergency meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden convened leaders of Canada, the European Commission, the European Council, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom following the explosion.

Biden said at this point it was unlikely that the missile was fired from Russia.

“There’s preliminary information that contests that. I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate,” he added.

Poland Explosion Overshadows G20 Bali Summit
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NATO and Russia clashes

Moscow’s representative to the United Nations said that the blast was designed to spark a war between Russia and NATO.

“There is an attempt to provoke a direct military clash between NATO and Russia, with all the consequences for the world,” Dmitry Polyansky said in a statement posted on his Telegram channel.

During their emergency meeting Wednesday, leaders also discussed the latest series of Russian missile attacks, Biden said, calling Moscow’s actions “totally unconscionable.”

“And the moment when the world had come together at the G-20 to urge de-escalation, Russia continues to — has chosen to escalate in Ukraine. While we’re meeting,” Biden said.

The U.S. president was awakened overnight by staff with news of the missile explosion. He spoke over the phone with Duda and Stoltenberg prior to convening the NATO and G-7 meeting, talks made up of representatives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and major industrial nations.

Biden promised Duda “full U.S. support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation” and “reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO.” He expressed condolences for the loss of life. Poland said the blast killed two people.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had decried the strike as “a very significant escalation” of the war.

Just as Biden was making his statement, former U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his claim that “Ukraine would have never happened if I were your president.”

Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago club and home in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump, who refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election and inspired a deadly riot at the Capitol, was announcing he would seek the presidency again in 2024.

G20 leaders’ statement

At the end of the G-20 summit Wednesday, the group released a statement saying that “most” members “strongly condemned” the war in Ukraine and stressed the conflict is exacerbating an already fragile global economy.

“There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions,” the leaders said in the statement, adding that the G-20 is not “the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”

In what appeared to be a veiled criticism against Russia’s aggression, leaders stated that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was “inadmissible.” The group also called for the extension of the agreement with Russia that allows Ukrainian grain export. It is set to expire Saturday.

News of the explosion had derailed events of the G-20 summit in Bali hosted by President Joko Widodo. G-7 leaders arrived more than an hour late to a mangrove planting event designed to highlight the group’s climate agenda.

“The G-20 is an economic forum, a financial forum, and diplomat forum, not a political forum. So here we talk about the economy,” Widodo told a reporter at the event’s site as he was waiting for the G-7 leaders to arrive.

The Indonesian leader filled the delay time by giving reporters a tour of the mangroves.

The head of the Russian delegation, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, was not at the event held at Bali’s mangrove forest park. Russian state media reported that he had left the island.

VOA’s White House correspondent Anita Powell and VOA’s State Department Bureau chief Nike Ching contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters and The Associated Press.