NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on November 16, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

BRUSSELS: NATO’s secretary-general said on Tuesday’s blast in Poland was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile but that Russia was ultimately responsible because it started the war.

The missile that landed on a Polish grains facility, killing two, initially raised global alarm that the Ukraine war could spill into neighbouring countries.

News that it was likely not fired by Russia helped ease the pressure, but did not clear Moscow of blame, Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after an emergency meeting of NATO ambassadors.

“Let me be clear, this is not Ukraine’s fault,” Stoltenberg said.

“Russia bears responsibility for what happened in Poland yesterday, because this is a direct result of the ongoing war and a wave of attacks from Russia against Ukraine yesterday.” Stoltenberg said the incident proved the risks of the war in Ukraine but had not changed the military alliance’s assessment of threat against its members.

“An investigation into this incident is ongoing and we need to await its outcome. But we have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack and we have no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against NATO,” he said.

“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.” Meanwhile Poland signalled it would in the end not invoke NATO’s article 4, which provides for consultations among allies in the face of a security threat, since the blast was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile and not by Russia.

Stoltenberg welcomed that more alliance members said they were ready to provide air defence means. He announced no immediate NATO measures but said a contact group on Ukraine, would meet later in the day, with the main focus on air defence.

A spokesperson for Germany’s defence ministry said Berlin would offer support to the Polish air defence, while Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said NATO should deploy more air defences on the alliance’s eastern flank.

“I hope by next year’s NATO summit in Vilnius we will be able to make progress, as the situation confirms it is the right decision and needs swift implementation”, Nauseda said.

Ground-based air defence systems such as Raytheon’s Patriot units are in short supply in many Western nations, which were reluctant to invest too much money in military capabilities like these after the end of the Cold War.