Poland’s government convened an emergency security meeting on Tuesday evening after two people were reportedly killed by a missile strike in the Polish countryside near Ukraine.
Polish media said the two died close to Przewodów, a village next to the border with Ukraine. Photographs posted on social media showed a damaged farm vehicle lying on its side next to a large crater. Local media said the casualties were farm workers.
The government would not comment on the cause of the incident, only saying that the emergency security meeting was called to respond to a “crisis situation”.
An official from Polish intelligence told the Financial Times that investigators were probing whether it could have been a Russian missile. If confirmed, it would be the first time a Nato country had been hit by a missile since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Nato members can invoke the transatlantic treaty’s Article 5 on mutual defence.
Russia’s defence ministry said the claims were a “deliberate provocation with the goal of escalating the situation”.
“No strikes on targets near the Ukraine-Poland state border were undertaken with Russian weaponry,” the ministry stated. It said footage of shrapnel found at the site of the explosion had “nothing to do with Russian weaponry”.
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, said that the US was “aware of the press reports alleging that two Russian missiles have struck a location inside Poland near the Ukraine border” and was taking them “seriously”. But Ryder said at this stage the US did not have information to “corroborate those reports”.
Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said the US was “working with the Polish government to gather more information”. She added: “We cannot confirm the reports or any of the details at this time. We will determine what happened and what the appropriate next steps would be.”
The reports come as Russia launched a barrage of missiles on Ukrainian cities, damaging energy infrastructure as well as civilian buildings.
“Russian missiles hit Poland,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged on Tuesday evening, adding that Moscow had launched 90 missiles targeting Ukraine.
Ukraine foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a “collective response” to Russia’s missile strikes, including a Nato summit with Ukrainian participation, to craft further joint action, including the provision of fighter jets.
“Today, protecting Ukraine’s skies means protecting Nato,” Kuleba said.
Oleksiy Reznikov, the country’s defence minister, said that “having been defeated on the battlefield, Russia is trying to cause a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine”.
“As winter approaches, the enemy is attacking the energy infrastructure across the whole territory of Ukraine. Their goal is to cause a new wave of millions of refugees,” Reznikov said in a flurry of posts on Twitter.
He too called on the west to provide further air defence systems to protect the country against Russia’s weeks of air strikes.
Czech prime minister Petr Fiala said: “If Poland confirms that the missiles also hit its territory, it will be another escalation on the part of Russia. We stand firmly behind our ally in the EU and Nato.”
“Russian missiles hitting the territory of the Nato member is a very dangerous escalation by the Kremlin,” Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs tweeted. “Latvia expresses full solidarity with our ally Poland and will support any action deemed appropriate by Poland. Russia will bear full responsibility for all the consequences.”
“We are looking into these reports and closely co-ordinating with our ally Poland,” said a Nato official.
Two Nato officials told the FT that the situation had provoked concern within the alliance but not panic. Warsaw was likely to first trigger Article 4 of the treaty, which concerns discussions over a potential threat to an alliance member, before Article 5.
Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defence minister, tweeted that Article 4 was “in place”.
In a further sign of the conflict spilling over, Moldova reported on Tuesday that it had lost electricity after the missile strikes in Ukraine, as a power line linking the two countries has automatically been disconnected.
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington and Henry Foy in Bali