Poland called an emergency meeting of national security officials on Tuesday after Polish media reported that projectiles killed two people near the border with Ukraine on Tuesday.
Polish officials confirmed the deaths of two people following an explosion in the Hrubieszów district of eastern Poland. Government spokesman Piotr Muller said teams of experts are clearing up the situation and will work through the night to clarify details of what he called a “serious” situation.
He added that Poland, which is in contact with NATO partners and US counterparts, is increasing the combat readiness of some units in the country.
It remains unclear where the projectiles came from, but they landed on the territory of the NATO member at about the same time Russia launched its largest wave of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities in more than a month.
At the site of the explosion, Polish media released an image of a deep impact and an overturned agricultural vehicle, near the town of Przewodow, about six kilometers west of the Ukrainian border.
A local resident told CNN they heard a terrifying “woosh” as the missile flew over the city. A janitor at a local school said the force of the blast shook classroom windows about 200 yards from the school gate.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki convened the Committee of the Council of Ministers for National Security and Defense, a government spokesman said, as reports of the projectiles emerged local time on Tuesday night.
Because little is publicly known about the origins of the projectiles, the incident has led to speculation that it could be an accidental spillover from Russia’s war in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already blamed Russia, describing the deadly explosion as a “significant escalation” – a claim Polish authorities have not confirmed.
Russia’s defense ministry has denied targeting the border, calling the Polish media reports “a deliberate provocation to escalate the situation,” according to a brief statement late Tuesday.
“The statements made by the Polish media and officials about the alleged fall of ‘Russian’ missiles in the area of the Przewodow settlement is a deliberate provocation to escalate the situation,” it said, adding that “there were no attacks. shot at targets near the Ukrainian-Polish state border.”
It added that the photos of wreckage published by the Polish media “of the crime scene in the village of Przewodow have nothing to do with Russian weapons.”
After speaking with Polish President Andrzej Duda about the explosion, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday it was “important that all the facts be established”.
“I have offered my condolences for the loss of life. NATO is monitoring the situation and Allies are in close consultation. It is important that all the facts be established,” Stoltenberg said in a message on Twitter.
NATO allies expressed concern at the reports. Some were cautious in their statements, neither speculating nor confirming the projectile’s origin.
US President Joe Biden, the White House says, “has been made aware of the reports from Poland and will soon speak with President Andrzej Duda of Poland.”
A senior White House official says they have no confirmation of a missile strike in Poland, but US officials are currently trying to find out exactly what happened.
Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel reiterated that the US cannot confirm reports of missiles hitting Polish territory and killing two.
“We have seen these reports from Poland and are working with the Polish government and our NATO partners to gather more information,” Patel said at a news conference. “We cannot confirm the reports or details at this time”
French President Emmanuel Macron has called for talks at Wednesday’s G20 summit, which Biden is attending, following reports of the incident in Poland, an Elysee Palace spokesman said on Tuesday.
A French defense source told CNN that France was “extremely cautious” and that officials would not comment until they could analyze “all available information”.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said they were “investigating these reports and are in close contact with the Allies”.
The Baltic NATO states were sharper in their statements, emphasizing a willingness to defend NATO territory.
Estonia called the news “most concerning,” according to a Twitter post from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Estonia is ready to defend every inch of NATO territory,” it added.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has said he is concerned about the news and that “Lithuania is in strong solidarity with Poland”.
“Every inch of NATO territory must be defended!” he added on social media.
Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks blamed Russia, even though there is no confirmation from Polish authorities that Russian missiles have landed on Polish territory.
“Condolences to our Polish comrades-in-arms. The criminal Russian regime fired missiles that not only targeted Ukrainian citizens, but also landed on NATO territory in Poland. Latvia fully stands with Polish friends and condemns this crime,” Pabriks wrote.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a group of 30 North American and European countries. According to NATO, its purpose is “to ensure the freedom and security of its members by political and military means”.
The alliance was formed in 1949 in response to the outbreak of the Cold War. The original goal was to protect the West from the threat of the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, many former Soviet countries have joined NATO, much to Putin’s chagrin.
The best-known aspect of the alliance is Article 5 of the treaty, which, if invoked, means that “an attack against one ally shall be regarded as an attack against all allies”.
Article 5 has been invoked only once, in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
However, the alliance can take collective defense measures without invoking Article 5 – and has done so in light of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
State Department Patel repeatedly said on Tuesday that he would not discuss hypotheses if asked about NATO Articles 4 and 5, but said intent is “something that would matter” in determining an answer .
“As I said, we will determine what happened and we will determine appropriate next steps, but as I said, this just happened in the last hour and so we are still taking the important time to get to the exact facts” , he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long complained that NATO has expanded its borders over time by admitting Eastern European countries that were once part of the Soviet Union — meaning Russia now shares a land border with Russia’s the world’s largest military alliance, diminishing its geopolitical power in what was once Moscow’s sphere of influence.
As late as February, he demanded that NATO scale back to its 1997 borders before the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the last two of which border Russia, join the alliance.