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The missile strike in Poland was potentially a stray Ukrainian missile


Both Poland and NATO now say that a Ukrainian air defense missile likely caused an explosion just inside Poland's border with Ukraine yesterday. The explosion had killed two people. But both parties were quick to emphasize that Ukraine was only trying to defend itself and that Russia was ultimately at fault. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from the Polish capital of Warsaw. Hi, Rob.


CHANG: OK, so yesterday's incident along Poland's eastern border came just as Russia had launched a barrage of missiles at critical infrastructure throughout Ukraine. Can you just talk about, like, what Polish officials are saying today about what happened?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Polish President Andrzej Duda spoke today here in Warsaw. And he clarified that after a lot of speculation overnight, the cause of an explosion that killed two workers at a grain storage facility in the border town of Przewodow was likely not a missile launched by Russia and that it was likely not an intentional attack against Poland. Instead, he said, a joint investigation led by U.S. and Polish officials believe this was caused by an errant missile from Ukraine's air defense system.



SCHMITZ: And, Ailsa, he's saying here that Russian missiles were likely moving in the direction of Poland and turned around back towards Ukraine and that a trailing Ukrainian air defense missile kept moving in the direction of Poland, ultimately striking Polish territory. He also added that teams on the ground believe the missile was not detonated, but that the damage on the ground was caused by the impact of the missile combined with an explosion from its fuselage. Now, it's worth pointing out that the investigation on the ground in Poland continues, but what Duda said was based on what he's hearing so far from the joint U.S.-Polish team.

CHANG: OK. And just to be clear, Rob, this is the first time since Russia's war in Ukraine started that a missile has struck NATO country across the Ukrainian border. What has NATO said about that?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said this incident may have been caused by a Ukrainian missile, but that it's not Ukraine's fault. He stressed that Ukraine was simply defending itself. He said he'll have to wait to see what the investigation shows before taking any further steps. But for now, he emphasized that this was not, to his knowledge, a deliberate attack on a NATO country.

CHANG: But what if this had been a Russian missile, what would NATO's response have been?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's the question many were asking last night when the details were still a little hazy. Many people mentioned NATO's Article 5, which in essence states that an attack on one is an attack on all. But it's not as simple as that. And, in fact, Article 5, known as the Collective Defense Clause, goes on to state that should NATO member be attacked by a non-NATO member, that members should come together and take action they deem necessary given that specific situation. So it's a broad article, and it leaves room for several types of actions.

CHANG: OK. Well, you are in Warsaw right now, talking to people there. What are they telling you about how they're feeling about all this?

SCHMITZ: For the most part, people I've spoken to have told me that because Poland borders Ukraine, that this type of incident was going to eventually happen. But now that it's happened, several people I spoke with, like university student Zuzanna Kaluga told me that they're a little more nervous.

ZUZANNA KALUGA: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: And, Ailsa, she's saying here that she doesn't know what to think. On one hand, she doesn't want to be too paranoid about this, but on the other, she feels that Poland needs to be more vigilant and not forget this too easily. She said she had a biology test today, and that before the test she thought to herself, should I be studying now, or should I be preparing for war?


SCHMITZ: And so clearly, it's gotten her and many others I spoke to more aware of what's happening across their border and the risks that war brings.

CHANG: Yeah, that is NPR's Rob Schmitz, joining us from Warsaw, Poland. Thank you so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.