With Poland saying that a Russian-made missile hit its territory on Tuesday and killed two people, Canada and other NATO members on both sides of the Atlantic are scrambling over how to respond to a potential escalation of the war in Ukraine.
Defence Minister Anita Anand said earlier Tuesday that she was in contact with Polish authorities, while the Conservative party blamed the deaths on Russian President Vladimir Putin outright.
The Polish government confirmed that its foreign minister summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday and “demanded immediate explanations,” in a statement that came shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy decried the missile strike as a “very significant escalation.”
Earlier Tuesday, Anand had said only that Canada was monitoring the situation.
“I’m receiving updates regarding this report and very closely in touch with our Polish allies at this time. It would be imprudent for me to comment further,” Anand said on her way into the House of Commons before question period.
But Conservative defence critic James Bezan went a step further, saying on Twitter that his party explicitly condemns Putin for “the callous missile attacks” and “our deepest condolences go out to the people of Poland and Ukraine for the loss of their citizens.”
The NATO alliance was formed after the Second World War as a check against the Soviet Union and currently has 30 members spread across North America and Europe.
The keystone of its founding treaty, Article 5, stipulates that any “armed attack” against one member constitutes an attack against all, and may trigger a self-defence response from allies as a bloc.
It was unclear whether Tuesday’s events would fall under that category, or if they may fall under Article 4, which says member states can convene a consultation with other members if they feel their security or independence are threatened.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Russian missiles crossed into Polish territory during a massive barrage that hit Ukraine’s power grid and cut electricity to much of Moldova.
That report was attributed to a senior U.S. intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity, as well as a second source reported to have confirmed the information.
Polish media reported that two people died Tuesday afternoon after a projectile struck an area where grain was drying in Przewodów, a village near the border with Ukraine.
The reports are heightening fears that the ongoing war in Ukraine will spill over into eastern Europe and spark a wider conflict between Russia and NATO, which has been supporting Ukraine with money and weapons but not troops.
Russia’s Defence Ministry denied launching strikes in the area near the Ukrainian-Polish border and accused Polish media and officials of deliberately escalating the situation.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement he had spoken with Polish President Andrzej Duda about “the explosion” in Poland. “I offered my condolences for the loss of life,” he added.
However, Stoltenberg also said that while the alliance is monitoring the situation and all allies are in close consultation with each other, it was “important that all facts are established.”
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with both Stoltenberg and Duda on Tuesday.
A readout of the latter call, released by the White House, says Biden “offered full U.S. support for and assistance with Poland’s investigation” of what was described as “the explosion.”
“President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO,” the readout says. “The two leaders said that they and their teams should remain in close touch to determine appropriate next steps as the investigation proceeds.”
Vedant Patel, the deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department, had said earlier Tuesday that the U.S. has seen the reports and that they are “incredibly concerning.”
“I want to again be very clear that we do not want to get ahead of hypotheticals. We do not know what has happened yet,” he said.
“And we’re working with our partners in the Polish government and our NATO partners to get more information and to assess what has happened. When we make that determination, we will determine appropriate next steps as well.”
Zelenskyy quickly accused Russia of having fired missiles at Poland as he called yet again for NATO allies to step up their support for his country.
“Terror is not limited to our national borders. Russian missiles hit Poland,” Zelenskyy wrote in Ukrainian in a message posted on the social media site Telegram.
“To fire missiles at NATO territory, this is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very significant escalation. We must act.”
Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks, whose country is home to a 2,000-strong NATO force led by 700 Canadian troops, also blamed Russia.
“(The) criminal Russian regime fired missiles which target not only Ukrainian civilians but also landed on NATO territory in Poland,” Pabriks said on Twitter. “Latvia fully stands with Polish friends and condemns this crime.”
There are also 40 Canadian military engineers in Poland who are training Ukrainian forces.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in French on Tuesday that she did not have any specific comments to make but that she, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly were all in contact with allies.
Both Trudeau and Jolywere attending a G20 summit in Indonesia on Tuesday and the reports emerged well after midnight local time.
Joly’s office echoed Anand’s comments in a written statement.
“We are aware of these reports. We are monitoring the situation, and we are in close contact with Poland and other partners on this,” said press secretary Adrien Blanchard.
—Marie-Danielle Smith and Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press