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Nato member Poland and the head of the military alliance both said Wednesday there was “no indication” that a missile that came down in Polish farmland, killing two people, was an intentional attack, and that air defences in neighbouring Ukraine likely launched the Soviet-era projectile to fend off a Russian assault that savaged its power grid.
The incident roiled financial markets early in the day amid fears that geopolitical tensions may flare up further. Later, normal trade returned as escalation fears eased.
In the midst of early confusion around the “missle strike” on Poland, the group of 20 nations unanimously adopted a declaration, saying most members condemned the war in Ukraine, but the document concluding their summit acknowledged some countries saw the conflict differently.
Nato’s chief said that Moscow, not Kyiv was ultimately to blame, for starting the war in the first place and launching the attack that triggered Ukraine’s defences. “This is not Ukraine's fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine,” Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels. Nato ambassadors were holding emergency talks to respond to Tuesday's blast that killed two people at a grain facility in Poland near the Ukrainian border, the war's first deadly spillover onto the territory of the Western military alliance.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said: “Ukraine's defence 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.”
Before the Polish and Nato assessments, US President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” that Russia fired the missile but added: “I'm going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.” Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, maintains stocks of Soviet- and Russian-made weaponry, including air-defence missiles, and has also seized many more Russian weapons while beating back the Kremlin's invasion forces.
Ukrainian air defences worked furiously against the Russian assault Tuesday on power generation and transmission facilities, including in Ukraine’s western region that borders Poland.
A Russian defence ministry spokesman said no Russian strike Tuesday was closer than 35 kilometres from the Ukraine-Poland border.
In Europe, Nato members Germany and the UK laced calls for a thorough investigation with criticism of Moscow.
“This wouldn't have happened without the Russian war against Ukraine, without the missiles that are now being fired at Ukrainian infrastructure intensively and on a large scale,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “This is the cruel and unrelenting reality of Putin's war.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it “a very significant escalation."
On the other end of the spectrum, China called for calm and restraint.
Damage in Ukraine from the aerial assault was extensive and swaths of the country were without power. Zelenskyy said about 10 million people lost electricity but tweeted overnight that 8 million were subsequently reconnected, with repair crews labouring through the night.
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First Published: Wed, November 16 2022. 23:48 IST