Poland has been hit by what may have been a Russian missile, marking the first explosion on NATO soil since Moscow invaded Ukraine more than eight months ago and raising fears of a dramatic escalation of the conflict.
The explosion on Tuesday killed two people and prompted Poland to consider activating Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which would trigger consultations with the rest of the alliance, a step short of invoking NATO’s collective-defence provisions and bringing the pact to the brink of war with nuclear-armed Russia.
The Polish explosion came on the same day Russia fired an estimated 90 missiles at Ukraine, one of the largest barrages since the war began. The wave of attacks followed an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the G20 summit in Bali, outlining his country’s terms for negotiating peace with Moscow. One of his conditions was a Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory.
U.S. President Joe Biden convened an emergency meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven countries and the European Union, already gathered in Bali for the G20 summit, to decide how to respond. Mr. Biden also spoke with Polish President Andrzej Duda and pledged U.S. help with investigating the cause of the blast.
Emerging from the meeting, Mr. Biden told reporters he and other leaders “agreed to support Poland’s investigation into the explosion.” He added it did not appear from preliminary investigations that the missile had been launched from Russia.
”We’re going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened,” he said. “Then we’re going to collectively determine our next step as we investigate and proceed.”
He said there had been “total unanimity” in the room on this, though did not outline what that next step would entail.
Asked about the potential of triggering Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which obligates NATO countries to come to one another’s defence in the event of an attack on one or more of them, he would not comment, other than to say a meeting of ambassadors would likely be held at some point.
Mr. Biden also condemned the “totally unconscionable” recent strikes across Ukraine by Russia, and reiterated that the U.S. supports Ukraine “fully in this moment” and “will continue to do whatever it takes to give them the capacity to defend themselves.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki convened an urgent meeting of his country’s National Security and Defence Council on Tuesday evening. Government spokesman Piotr Muller said afterward that the country might request consultations under Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which states that alliance members “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.”
Poland would also heighten the readiness of some military units, Mr. Muller said.
Invoking Article 4 would stop short of activating Article 5, which holds that that “an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies.”
The Polish government said the missiles appeared to be Russian-made, but Mr. Duda said it was not immediately clear that the Russian military had fired them. Some pro-war Russian bloggers claimed the missiles were actually part of Ukraine’s air defence system.
Images posted online from the Przewodow region, 10 kilometres from Poland’s border with Ukraine, showed a scorched tractor beside a deep crater in what appeared to be farmland. Other photographs appeared to show missile fragments that bore no obvious identifying marks.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement that it had not targeted anything near the Poland-Ukraine border Tuesday and that the episode was “a deliberate provocation with the goal of escalating the situation.”
Artis Pabriks, the Defence Minister of Latvia, a NATO member that like Poland shares a border with Russia, wrote on Twitter that the “criminal Russian regime fired missiles which target not only Ukrainian civilians but also landed on NATO territory in Poland. Latvia fully stands with Polish friends and condemns this crime.”
In Ottawa, Defence Minister Anita Anand said she was aware of the reports, but she added that it would be “imprudent to comment on it at this point.” She said she was “in close touch” with Polish officials and was “monitoring the situation very closely.”
Other NATO leaders expressed solidarity with Poland without directly accusing Russia of carrying out an attack.
Also Tuesday, Russian missiles hit targets across Ukraine, striking residential buildings in Kyiv and knocking out power stations in Lviv, in the west, and Kharkiv, in the east. At least one person was killed and several others were injured in Kyiv after Ukrainian air defences knocked Russian cruise missiles out of the sky, causing them to fall on a residential area on the outskirts of the capital. Flames were seen shooting out of a five-storey apartment block.
Sirens wailed over the southern port of Odesa as well, and at least one explosion was heard in the city centre. Explosions were also reported in the cities of Dnipro and Kryvyi Rih, in the centre of the country; Mykolaiv, in the south; and Zhytomyr and Rivne in the west.
“Russian terrorists carried out another planned attack on energy infrastructure facilities. The situation is critical,” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Mr. Zelensky’s office, said in a statement. “The situation in the capital is extremely difficult.”
Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said half the city, which had a prewar population of almost three million, was without electricity, leaving 80 per cent of residents without power. Water and heating were also affected. Authorities in the city of Vinnytsia, in west-central Ukraine, were told to stock up on water after a pumping station suffered damage.
The country’s largest mobile service provider warned of outages, and public transport was also disrupted in several cities. The internet watchdog NetBlocks recorded a steep drop in Ukrainian internet traffic after the attacks.
The strikes were seen as a direct response to Mr. Zelensky’s video address to the G20 summit, in which he laid out a 10-point plan for peace in his country, including the resumption of Ukrainian food exports, an “all-for-all” prisoner exchange, a special United Nations tribunal to investigate alleged Russian war crimes and an end to nuclear blackmail.
“Please use all your power to make Russia abandon nuclear threats,” Mr. Zelensky told the assembled leaders, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s repeated threats to use weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine.
Mr. Zelensky referred to the summit as the “G19,” as Mr. Putin decided not to attend, sending Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his stead.
The Ukrainian President’s speech, and the fresh Russian attacks, arrived just days after Ukrainian troops entered Kherson, the only provincial capital to be captured by Moscow since the start of this year’s full-scale invasion. Russian troops had been forced to stage a humiliating withdrawal from Kherson, which Mr. Putin had officially annexed only six weeks earlier, declaring that the entire region was now part of the Russian Federation.
On Tuesday, Russian occupation authorities were forced to withdraw from their new offices in the city of Nova Kahkovkha, which is now within range of Ukrainian artillery and missile systems located on the western bank of the Dnipro River, the new front line in the region.
In Bali, Mr. Lavrov said it was Kyiv, not Moscow, that was refusing to discuss peace terms. “We have repeatedly confirmed through our president that we do not refuse to negotiate. If anyone is refusing to negotiate, it is Ukraine. The longer it continues to refuse, the harder it will be to reach an agreement.”
In Kyiv, Daniel Bilak, a Canadian lawyer who advised several Ukrainian prime ministers before taking up arms to help defend the country, said the missile attacks made plain that the Kremlin does not want peace.
“The day President Zelensky unveils a tangible, credible 10-point peace plan around which to negotiate, the Russians respond by raining 100 missiles of death down on our heads across the country,” Mr. Bilak said. “What should we negotiate over?”