NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference after a NATO ambassador meeting at Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium,, on Wednesday. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE
Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Polish officials and their NATO allies said Wednesday a missile that landed in Poland, killing two people, appeared to come from a Ukrainian air defense system fired against a Russian attack.
The missile hit the border Polish village of Przewodow and was originally thought to have been fired by Russia, which could have triggered a response from NATO. But an investigation revealed the missile was likely fired by Ukraine in defense of a wide-ranging missile attack by Russia.
"From the information that we and our allies have, it was an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union -- an old rocket -- and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side," Poland's President Andrzej Duda said in a statement. "It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defense."
Filip Trzaskowski, a Polish photographer on the scene in Przewodów, Poland, told UPI in a phone interview he worried the accident would harm the relationship with Ukraine.
"I am afraid and I hope that this situation doesn't change our situation between Poland and Ukraine because it's very good. ... I'm scared the right wing will say, 'They are coming here, they stole our jobs, right now there is a crisis in Ukraine and they dropped a missile on our lands.'"
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Poland on Wednesday said that Ukraine was not at fault.
"Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks," Stoltenberg said in a statement. "But let me be clear: This is not Ukraine's fault.
"Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine. In the meeting today, NATO allies offered their deepest condolences on the tragic loss of life. They expressed their strong solidarity with our valued ally Poland."
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed this opinion telling reporters during a press briefing Wednesday that "Russia bears ultimate responsibility for this incident."
"This tragic and troubling incident is yet another reminder of the recklessness of Russia's war of choice," he said. "And Ukraine has a bedrock right to defend itself, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they defend their country."
The European Union similarly blamed Russia, stating in a statement that it was a result "of yet another massive wave of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities," which it called a "gross violation of international law."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected any blame.
"As for the incident in Poland, Russia has nothing to do with it," Peskov said, according to the state-run news agency TASS. "Let us call things by their proper names. In fact, high-ranking officials in different countries were making statements without having any idea of what exactly happened or what the real cause was."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had initially said the rocket that hit Poland came from Russia -- a position he doubled down on Wednesday.
"I have no doubt that it was not our rocket," he told reporters in Kyiv, the Interfax news agency reported. "I believe that it was a Russian missile based on the credibility of reports of the military."