A “Russia-made” alleged S-300 missile struck eastern Poland on Tuesday afternoon, marking the first time since Ukraine’s invasion that weapons came down on a NATO country. But, who fired it?
Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have used Russia-made munitions during the nine-month conflict, with the latter deploying Russia-produced missiles as part of its air defense system. These older-generation weapons systems date back to the period when both countries were part of the Soviet Union.
The missile landed outside the rural Polish village of Przewodow, about four miles (6.4km) west from the Ukrainian border. It happened roughly the same time as Russia launched its biggest wave of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities in more than a month. Kyiv says nearly 100 cruise missiles hit its territory.
Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters in Warsaw that it wasn’t clear who launched the missile. NATO is holding an emergency meeting of its ambassadors on November 16 to discuss the events in Poland.
U.S. President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” to have been fired from Russia.
“I don’t want to say that [it was fired from Russia] until we completely investigate,” Biden told reporters after holding an emergency meeting with G7 and NATO leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali on November 15. “It’s unlikely in the minds of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia. But we’ll see.”
He added that the U.S. will support Poland’s investigation, along with its allies. “We agreed to support Poland’s investigation into the explosion … And I’m going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened,” Biden said, adding the leaders offered sympathy over the death of two people. “Then we’re going to collectively determine our next step as we investigate and proceed. There was total unanimity among the folks at the table,” he added.
A spokesperson with the U.S. National Security Council declined to comment on reports of the missile strike that killed two people. “We have no comment and will not be confirming this report. As the President said today, we support Poland’s ongoing investigation to figure out exactly what happened,” the spokesman said.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that three U.S. officials said preliminary assessments suggested the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces in an attempt to intercept an incoming Russian strike.
Another NATO military official told CNN the missile had been tracked by an alliance aircraft flying above Polish airspace at the time of the blast. “Intel with the radar tracks [of the missile] was provided to NATO and Poland,” the official stated.
The NATO official did not say who launched the missile, or where it was fired from.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Office of the Ukrainian President, said in a statement to CNN, “Russia has turned the eastern part of the European continent into an unpredictable battlefield. Intent, means of execution, risks, escalation – it is all coming from Russia alone… when an aggressor country launches a deliberate, massive missile strike against a large country on the European continent with its obsolete Soviet-era weapons (Kh -class missiles), tragedy sooner or later occurs on the territories of other states as well.”
Military experts said on social media that Poland has deployed RAT-31DL FADR radar at Łabunie, about 40km from Przewodów. Even the U.S. has a Patriot battery at Rzeszów, about 180km from the missile’s impact. These two radars had the ability to detect the incoming missile.
Russia says it did not fire the missile that hit Poland
Russian defense ministry dismissed reports that missiles fired by its forces had landed in Poland. "Polish mass media and officials commit deliberate provocation to escalate (the) situation with their statement on alleged impact of 'Russian' rockets," it said in an online statement.
The ministry claimed that Russian strikes Ukraine had been no closer than 35 km (22 miles) from the Polish border.
"The photos published in the evening of Nov. 15 in Poland of the wreckage found in the village of Przewodow are unequivocally identified by Russian defense industry specialists as elements of an anti-aircraft guided missile of the S-300 air defense system of the Ukrainian air force," RIA news agency quoted the defense ministry as saying.