Joe Biden has said the missile that landed in Poland, killing two people, was unlikely to have been fired from Russia due to its trajectory.
The US president was speaking at the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, after convening an emergency meeting of western leaders to discuss the explosion on Nato territory that has the potential to take the war in Ukraine into a new even more dangerous dimension.
Asked if the missile was fired from Russia, Biden said: “There is preliminary information that contests that. I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate. But it is unlikely in the minds [sic] of its trajectory that it was fired from Russia.” He added: “But we will see, we will see.”
The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the missile as a “Russian-made” missile, a phrase that could include S-300 ground to air missiles in the possession of Ukraine.
“We agreed to support Poland’s investigation into the explosion in rural Poland, near the Ukrainian border, and they’re going to make sure we figure out exactly what happened,” Biden said.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he took Russian denials of involvement in the attack seriously adding it was likely to be a technical error.
He said in Bali: “I have met with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. There is general impression that this missile is not Russian made and this declaration paves the way to certain facts so we should not insist this missile was launched from Russia. This would be a provocation.” He added: “Peace can only be established through dialogue and we want to establish dialogue.”
The remarks come after Biden had convened an emergency meeting of the G7 group of western leaders to discuss the implications of the strike in Poland.
The meeting underscored the possibility that the attack represented a Russian assault on Nato territory, something that might require invocation of Nato’s collective self-defence articles. Moscow denied responsibility.
The G7 consists of Canada, Italy, France, Germany, the UK, the US and Japan. The two EU leaders Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen also attended, as did the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez. Among the national leaders only Japan is not a member of the Nato alliance.
Biden has always been desperate to prevent the war in Ukraine from spilling over on to Nato territory – or into Russia territory – so will be seeking definitive evidence on who fired the missile and the level of intent.
A draft declaration issued from G20 leaders at the close of the summit said, “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine,” and demanded Russia’s “complete and unconditional withdrawal” from its neighbour’s territory. The reference to war is a rejection of Russia’s claim that it is involved in a “special military operation”.
But the draft also said, “There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions,” reflecting the divisions among G-20 states over Russia.”
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian missiles hit Poland in a “significant escalation” of the conflict. He did not provide evidence.
Russia’s defence ministry denied that Russian missiles hit Polish territory, describing reports as “a deliberate provocation aimed at escalating the situation”.
It added in a statement: “No strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish state border were made by Russian means of destruction.”
The fact that Poland is seeking Nato consultations under Article 4 as opposed to actions in self-defence as prescribed under Article 5 showed Poland is acting cautiously. Nato is likely to meet at the official level in Brussels. The UN secretary general António Guterres described the attack as incredibly concerning before convening a meeting of the UN security council later on Wednesday
Both the Polish president Andrzej Duda and the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki have called for calm and to be wary of fake news.
The Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba had pointed the finger of blame at Russia saying on Twitter “Russia now promotes a conspiracy theory that it was allegedly a missile of Ukrainian air defense that fell on the Polish theory. Which is not true. No one should buy Russian propaganda or amplify its messages. This lesson should have been long learnt since the downing of MH17”, the Malaysian civilian aircraft shot down by Russia in Ukrainian airspace.
He later said he had held a detailed call with the US secretary of state Antony Blinken on the “Russian missile terror – its scale, aims, consequences. I stressed the response to what happened in Poland must be stiff and principled.” He added he was “grateful for affirming the US will double down on recovering our energy system, together with G7 and the EU.”
But regardless of the outcome of the inspection of the wreckage of the attack, and the precise conclusions drawn, Poland and Ukraine are likely to demand an increase in air protection in eastern Europe. Ukraine has been seeking improved air defences for weeks and its defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter: “We were asking to close the sky, because sky has no borders. Not for Russian uncontrolled missiles. Not for the threat they carry for our EU & Nato neighbours. Gloves are off. Time to win”.
The scale of the Russian missile strikes on Ukraine on Tuesday was described by Ukraine as the most severe of the entire war and may have been designed as a show of force by Russian president Vladimir Putin to members of the G20 gathered in Bali. Putin refused to attend the summit himself, but Sergei Lavrov, his foreign minister and substitute was at a gala dinner hosted by the Indonesian president Joko Wikodo as the attacks were being launched.
Indonesia’s painstaking attempts to make the G20 agenda sidestep the war in Ukraine have been dealt a final blow by Putin’s latest assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.