Hundreds of Polish police officers and soldiers have sealed off the tiny village of Przewodow in eastern Poland, as investigators intensify their probe into Tuesday’s missile strike, which killed two people.
The news of the explosion, initially blamed on Russia, heightened fears that NATO countries would be drawn further into the war in Ukraine, after months supporting Kyiv from afar.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said Wednesday the rockets were likely fired by Ukrainian air defence forces. “We have no evidence that the rocket was fired by Russia,” Mr. Duda said. Russia has denied firing rockets into Poland.
He added that Russia had launched nearly 100 rockets at Ukraine on Tuesday, some at areas close to Poland. “Ukraine defended itself – which is obvious and understandable – by firing missiles, which were tasked with hitting Russian missiles,” he said.
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Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has insisted that his country should be part of any investigation into the strike. “The Ukrainian position is very transparent. We strive to establish all the details, every fact,” Mr. Zelensky said Wednesday. “That is why we need our experts to join the work of the international investigation.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was monitoring the probe, which is being carried out by Polish authorities. “But we have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack,” he told a news conference on Wednesday. “And we have no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against NATO.”
However, he stressed that Ukraine was not at fault. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
Przewodow is just three kilometres from the Ukrainian border. While the village’s 500 residents were all too familiar with the war raging next door, few expected the conflict to come so close to home.
“Since the start of the war we keep analyzing the danger. It has quieted down recently, but here we are today,” Ewa Byra, the principal of the local school, told reporters. “It’s terrifying.” Classes have been cancelled and counsellors have been brought in to help the 71 students cope with the attack. The village’s mayor has declared three days of mourning.
Villagers said they saw two missiles strike a grain drying facility on Tuesday afternoon, killing two men who have been identified by locals as Boguslaw Wos, 62, and Bogdan Ciupek, 60. Mr. Wos worked at the facility and Mr. Ciupek was reportedly making a grain delivery in his truck when the explosion happened.
Some villagers said they saw several fighter jets flying low over farms just before the strike. The overwhelming police presence in the area has left many townsfolk reluctant to speak with the media or even take photographs with their cellphones.
At the G20 summit in Indonesia, leaders of the organization’s member countries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, issued a joint statement on Wednesday denouncing the war in Ukraine. They called for Russia’s “complete and unconditional withdrawal.”
The statement followed days of closed-door negotiations between diplomats at the summit. It noted that the condemnation had been endorsed by “most members.” But it said that there “were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
“Recognizing that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy,” the statement added. “Today’s era must not be of war.”
Speaking to reporters after the statement was released, Mr. Trudeau praised the text as “strong and clear.”
“Most countries were very, very clear that so many of the problems facing the world right now have been either caused or exacerbated by Russia’s illegal attacks in Ukraine,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau would not comment on the origin of the strike, saying an investigation needed to take place. But he said Russia had obviously chosen “to thumb its nose” at the G20.
“One thing is absolutely clear: whether it was direct or indirect responsibility, Russia is responsible for what happened, because Russia chose to launch over 100 missiles … while we were gathering.”
After a discussion with representatives of NATO and the European Union early on Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said, “We’re going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened.”
“Then we’re going to collectively determine our next step as we investigate and proceed.”
Mr. Biden condemned Russia’s “totally unconscionable” strikes against Ukraine on Tuesday. At a time “when the world came together at the G20 to urge de-escalation,” he said, Russia had “chosen to escalate in Ukraine.”
The missile barrage followed a Monday visit by Mr. Zelensky to the recently liberated city of Kherson. The next day, he addressed the G20 summit in a prerecorded video.
In the video, he outlined a 10-point peace plan and called for a special tribunal to investigate Russian war crimes. He compared the liberation of Kherson to the D-Day landings, saying it was “not yet a final point in the fight against evil,” but had “already determined the entire further course of events.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the speech at a news conference for Russian state media later on Tuesday. Mr. Lavrov said Kyiv, not Moscow, was standing in the way of peace.
He also accused Western countries of trying to “politicize” the G20 leaders’ joint declaration by trying to add “statements that would condemn the actions of the Russian Federation on behalf of the entire G20.” He said such matters were “not on the agenda and not in the competence of the G20 group.”
Mr. Lavrov left Bali Tuesday, before the final day of the conference, as Russian missiles were striking Ukraine.
The focus on Ukraine proved frustrating for some G20 countries, which would have preferred prioritizing economic matters, particularly considering the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic.
In their statement, G20 leaders said they were “deeply concerned by the challenges to global food security exacerbated by current conflicts and tensions.”
“We therefore commit to taking urgent actions to save lives, prevent hunger and malnutrition, particularly to address the vulnerabilities of developing countries, and call for an accelerated transformation towards sustainable and resilient agriculture and food systems and supply chains,” they said.