Key questions remain about the circumstances of the rocket which hit Poland near its Ukrainian border on Tuesday, killing two people.
No one is greater than the one who fired it.
It came on the day Russia launched a a lightning series of airstrikes across Ukrainebut Moscow denied any involvement in the Polish explosion.
A deliberate, hostile attack on NATO member Poland could trigger a collective military response from the alliance.
Where did the missile come from?
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that it was “unlikely” that the missile that killed two in NATO ally Poland was fired from Russia.
“There is preliminary information that disputes that,” Biden told reporters at the G20 summit in Indonesia, when asked if the missile was fired from Russia. “It’s unlikely in the trajectory lines that it was fired from Russia, but we’ll see.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, three US officials said preliminary assessments suggested the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian missile amid devastating fire on Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure.
That assessment and Biden’s comments at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia contradict information obtained earlier Tuesday by a senior US intelligence official who told the AP that Russian missiles had crossed Poland.
The Polish government said it was investigating and raising the level of its military preparedness. In a statement by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was stated that the weapons were manufactured in Russia.
President Andrzej Duda was more circumspect, saying it was “most likely” Russian-made, but that its origin was still being verified.
Duda said that he informed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Biden that it is “very likely” that the Polish ambassador to NATO “will request the invocation of Article 4, that is, consultations among allies.”
According to Article 4 of the Treaty establishing the Military Alliance, members can bring up for discussion any issue of concern, especially related to security, allowing more time to determine the steps to be taken.
What if it was a deliberate attack?
The Polish statement did not say whether the attack could have been an error in targeting or whether the missile could have been deflected by Ukrainian defenses. Ukraine still has stockpiles of former Soviet and Russian weapons, including the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system.
Poland and NATO used language that suggested they were not treating the missile explosion as a deliberate Russian attack, at least for now. A NATO statement called it a “tragic incident”.
If Russia had deliberately targeted Poland, it would have risked drawing the 30-member alliance into the conflict at a time when it is already fighting Ukrainian forces.
Russia’s defense ministry denied it was behind “any attacks on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border” and said in a statement that photos of the alleged damage “have nothing to do” with Russian weapons.
If Moscow is found to be responsible for the blast, it could trigger NATO’s principle of collective defense known as Article 5, under which an attack on one member of the Western alliance is considered an attack on all, triggering a debate over a potential military response.
“All the leaders I spoke to today assured me of allied support, including compliance with all provisions of Article 5,” Duda said on Twitter. “We will consider this matter together.”
What was the goal of the Russian attacks on Tuesday?
Russia has targeted Ukrainian energy facilities with its largest ever barrage of missiles, hitting targets across the country and causing widespread power outages.
The barrage also hit neighboring Moldova. It reported major power outages after the strikes cut a key power line supplying the small nation, the official said.
The rocket strikes plunged much of Ukraine into darkness and provoked Zelensky’s defiance.
In his overnight address, the Ukrainian leader said the strike in Poland offered proof that “terror is not limited by our national borders.”
Russia fired at least 85 missiles, most of which targeted power plants in the country, and blacked out many cities, he said.
Ukraine’s energy minister said the attack was the “most massive” bombing of energy facilities in the nearly nine-month-old invasion, hitting both power generation and transmission systems.
The minister, Herman Haluschenko, accused Russia of “trying to cause maximum damage to our energy system ahead of winter.”
At least one person was killed in the attack in an apartment building in the capital, Kyiv. It followed several days of euphoria in Ukraine, sparked by one of its biggest military successes — last week’s recapture of the southern city of Kherson.
The electricity grid has already been damaged by previous attacks that destroyed an estimated 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure.
With battlefield losses mounting, Russia is increasingly resorting to targeting Ukraine’s power grid, seemingly hoping to turn winter into a weapon by leaving people in the cold and dark.
What is happening diplomatically?
President Biden held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the G7 — which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union — along with the president of the European Council and the prime ministers of NATO allies Spain and the Netherlands.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called a meeting of the alliance’s representatives in Brussels, which should take place at 10 a.m. CET. The UN Security Council was also scheduled to meet on Wednesday for a previously scheduled briefing on the situation in Ukraine.
The leaders of the G20 countries condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine “in the strongest terms” on Wednesday and demanded its unconditional withdrawal in a declaration adopted at the end of the two-day summit.
Underscoring the extremely tense situation, CIA Director William Burns was in Kiev on Tuesday amid a barrage of Russian missiles that hit dozens of targets in the country. He stayed at the American Embassy in Kyiv during the strikes.
Burns briefed Zelenskyi and Ukrainian officials about his meeting in Turkey with the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, according to another US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Burns told Ukrainian officials that he conveyed a U.S. warning to Russia not to use nuclear weapons, a U.S. official said.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau summoned the Russian ambassador and “demanded urgent detailed explanations”, the government said.