Biden and Zelensky Clash Over Poland Missile Strike Evidence

President Joe Biden has disputed the statement by his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky about the origin of a missile that landed in Poland.

The world was on tenterhooks on Tuesday after a missile landed in the eastern Polish town of Przewodow, killing two people, and the first incident from the war in Ukraine that had directly impacted a NATO member.

Under Article 5 of NATO's charter, an attack on one of the alliance's 30 members is considered an attack on all, and the strike raised the possibility of an escalation in the war.

Combination Photo, Zelensky and Biden
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint news conference with Greece's President following their meeting at the Mariinskiy palace in Kyiv on November 3, 2022 and U.S. President Joe Biden makes a statement during a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit on November 16, 2022 in Nusa Dua, Indonesia. Getty

While the Russian Ministry of Defense denied responsibility, Zelensky was clear that the explosion was caused by a Russian missile. "I have no doubt that it was not our missile," he said in a TV address.

But Biden, who once said that the U.S. would defend "every inch" of NATO soil, was among the first leaders to hold back from immediately placing blame, telling reporters at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia, the missile's trajectory showed "it's unlikely" that it was fired from Russia.

Following his return to the U.S., when asked about Zelensky's version of events, Biden told reporters at the White House "that's not the evidence," according to Reuters.

Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian foreign ministry for comment.

Polish President Andrzej Duda called the incident a "tragic accident" in an assessment backed by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said that the explosion was likely to be caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile "that unfortunately landed in Poland."

An investigation is ongoing but Duda said that it was probably a Russian-made S-300 missile. Both sides use Russian munitions.

However, Austin said Moscow "bears ultimate responsibility for this incident," while NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg said, "this is not Ukraine's fault."

The incident followed a Russian barrage of missiles on Ukraine on Tuesday which hit civilian targets and energy infrastructure ahead of winter.

"Even if it was a blue on blue [incident] with a Ukrainian rocket that landed in Poland, I think there is still enough ground for Poland to invoke Article 4," the former director of policy planning for NATO, Fabrice Pothier said, referring to the part of the alliance charter that allows Warsaw to call or consultations with other members.

"The bottom line is Polish territorial integrity was breached as a result of an overall escalation undertaken by Russia with the largest ever missile strike against Ukraine," Pothier told Newsweek on Wednesday.

"As a consequence of these missile strikes—we're talking about 100-plus missiles targeting population centers and infrastructure—you have had a misfiring like this."

Correction 11/17/22, 5:45 a.m. ET: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Volodymyr Zelensky's first name.