Daily Mail

Zelensky: Ukraine not to blame for rocket strike

President hits back at Nato claims over strike on Polish border village

- By Mark Nicol Defence Editor

‘I have no doubt it was not us’

VOLODYMYR Zelensky last night denied claims a Ukrainian air defence system fired a rocket which killed civilians in Poland on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian president hit back after Nato leaders suggested the ‘unfortunat­e accident’ happened as the country attempted to protect itself against Russian bombardmen­t – while making clear Moscow bears ‘ultimate responsibi­lity’.

The dispute, which is likely to be welcomed by Russia, stemmed from an explosion in Przewodow, four miles from the Ukrainian border. Early reports in the Polish media suggested stray Russian cruise missiles had detonated in the village.

Many Western analysts rushed to the same conclusion about what appeared to be Moscow’s latest atrocity and there were fears a Russian strike on Nato territory – the first of the war – could draw the alliance further into the conflict. But by yesterday morning, western officials were rapidly rowing back as mounting evidence indicated Russia was not directly involved.

Following an emergency meeting of Nato ambassador­s, secretary general Jens Stoltenber­g said: ‘Our preliminar­y analysis suggests the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend [its] territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.

‘But let me be clear, this is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibi­lity as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.’

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda agreed, saying there were ‘many indication­s’ that the missile – ‘most likely’ a Russian-made S-300 rocket – was fired as part of Ukraine’s air defences and ‘unfortunat­ely fell on Polish territory’.

Addressing the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, quoting Mr Stoltenber­g, said the incident was ‘likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile’. And the United States also adopted Poland’s version of events.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said the US had not seen anything to contradict Poland’s assessment, adding he had full confidence in the government’s investigat­ion into the explosion.

But last night in an unexpected riposte, president Zelensky insisted his country was not at fault. In an interview with Ukrainian media outlets, he reportedly said: ‘I have no doubt that it was not our missile.’

Meanwhile, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, claimed to have evidence of a ‘Russian trace’ in the explosion. He declined to clarify the remark and insisted Ukraine would share its evidence at the appropriat­e time.

In another counterpun­ch, Ukrainian officials demanded access to the crash site in eastern Poland to gather informatio­n. The probe is presently being led by Poland and the site is secured by its soldiers. Mr Duda said both Poland and the US would have to agree before Ukraine could take part in the investigat­ion.

The Kremlin has routinely sought to cause divisions within the Westernled alliance. Presidenti­al spokesman Dmitry Peskov yesterday described Western reports blaming Russia for the explosion as ‘frenzied’ and ‘hysterical’.

The S-300 system was initially developed by the Soviets in the 1970s. According to reports the model deployed on the UkrainianP­olish border was several decades old and released a rocket from the Soviet era.

It may have been activated accidental­ly during a blitzkrieg by Russia on targets across Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon. The system identifies incoming ordnance, such as Russian cruise missiles, and fires ‘5V55R’ rockets to intercept them.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: ‘We cannot rule out that the shelling of Ukrainian infrastruc­ture near the border was an intentiona­l provocatio­n done in the hope that such a situation could arise.’

Nato commanders met at the US’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany yesterday to discuss options to enhance Ukraine’s air defences.

Last night, Latvia suggested Nato should extend the range of its defence systems to cover western Ukraine – which would be likely to prevent any more missiles landing in Poland.

IT WAS 5am on the paradise island of Bali when Rishi Sunak was woken to the news that a missile had struck Poland.

His beach- side Hilton resort, with sweeping sea views over the crystalblu­e Indian Ocean, could not have been a further cry from the misery he was being briefed on 6,000 miles away.

Were Russia to be behind the strike on the village which killed two men, it threatened the worst conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

He was briefed on the situation by Fiona Mcilwham, the former private secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who is now the Prime Minister’s private secretary on foreign affairs and was part of the delegation to the G20 summit in Indonesia.

As the potential gravity of the situation hit home, world leaders tore up their diaries to check in with their defence and intelligen­ce officials back home and hold crisis talks. Among the ‘ bilateral’ meetings – where leaders

‘The reason we’re here is Russia’

thrash out their difference­s – to fall victim was a much-anticipate­d one to one between Mr Sunak and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Mr Sunak couldn’t make his meeting with president Xi at 3.30pm as it clashed with a call he’d promised to have with Ukrainian premier Volodymyr Zelensky at the eleventh hour, and they were unable to rearrange.

He was also forced to call off a one to one with Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, which was scheduled for 8am local time. A leaders’ visit to a mangrove forest, where they were due to plant saplings, was also cancelled. Instead, the PM held an emergency call with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

He also spoke with Polish president Andrzej Duda before calling Canadian premier Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.

He then found himself with G7 leaders at the nearby Grand Hyatt resort, who called an emergency mini- summit to discuss their response. Around the table were the leaders of France, Germany,

America, Spain, the Netherland­s, Canada and the chiefs of the European Commission and European Council.

Before the meeting, the rushed PM was seen at the resort being handed a tie by an aide. Meanwhile Russian foreign affairs minister Sergey Lavrov, sent by Vladimir Putin to replace him, left the summit early, fuelling speculatio­n his country was behind the attack.

Moscow was also using the incident to ramp up its anti-Western rhetoric as tensions boiled over.

In a statement issued by Russia’s defence ministry, Moscow accused ‘Polish mass media and officials’ of ‘deliberate provocatio­n to escalate the situation with their statement on [the] alleged impact of “Russian” rockets’.

Following the near hour-long G7 crisis talks, the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was the first to suggest the missile may not have been launched from Russia.

As more intelligen­ce began trickling in, US President Joe Biden was more unequivoca­l, saying initial findings ‘contest’ the theory the missile was fired from Russian soil. As it became clear it was unlikely it had been fired from Russia, a sense of calm was restored, with the PM and Mr Biden’s bilateral meeting going ahead as planned at 11.30am.

It came after they chatted for another 20 minutes following the G7 meeting, swapping thoughts about whether the missile had been fired from Russia.

Mr Sunak also addressed the summit’s final session on digital transforma­tion at 1.30pm, when he told other leaders: ‘It is important that we remain calm and focus on establishi­ng the facts.

‘Yet as we met yesterday in this format, Russia launched over 80 missiles at Ukraine, hitting innocent people and civilian infrastruc­ture. It deserves to be condemned by us all.’ He later met with the PMs for India and Australia, Narendra Modi and Anthony Albanese. But as he gave his post-summit press conference before jetting off home into another potential storm over the Autumn Statement, the PM left no doubt as to whom he blamed for the tragedy.

Regardless of the outcome of the investigat­ion, he said: ‘All of us want to get to the bottom of what happened and it’s right that we let that process conclude, but to take a step back, the reason we’re even having this conversati­on is because yesterday, Russia rained down strikes on civilians.’

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 ?? ?? Tense: Clockwise from centre, Mr Sunak, Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, Pedro Sanchez, Emmanuel Macron, foreign ministers Jose Manuel Albares (Spain) and Catherine Colonna (France), Justin Trudeau, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and adviser Jake Sullivan
Tense: Clockwise from centre, Mr Sunak, Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, Pedro Sanchez, Emmanuel Macron, foreign ministers Jose Manuel Albares (Spain) and Catherine Colonna (France), Justin Trudeau, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and adviser Jake Sullivan

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