Poland says Russian missile briefly entered its airspace

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says organisation is ‘monitoring the situation’ as Poland says it has confirmed incident.

Chief of the General Staff of Poland General Wieslaw Kukula salutes during a ceremony
Chief of the General Staff of Poland General Wieslaw Kukula, seen here at a ceremony on November 1 in Arlington, Virginia, has said that 'everything indicates' a Russian missile briefly passed through Polish airspace on December 29 [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

Polish military authorities have said that a Russian missile briefly passed through the country’s airspace before leaving, prompting concern from the country that borders Ukraine on the day Russia carried out attacks across several Ukrainian cities killing at least 30 people.

Poland, a member of the NATO military alliance, says that the object entered from the direction of Ukraine on Friday morning, entering about 40 kilometers (24 miles) before leaving after about three minutes.

“Everything indicates that a Russian missile intruded in Poland’s airspace,” said Poland’s defence chief, General Wieslaw Kukula. “It was monitored by us on radars and left the airspace. We have confirmation of this on radars and from [NATO] allies.”

The incident comes at a time of high tensions between Russia and European nations located near Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February 2022.

Polish officials say they are working to further verify their findings and rule out the possibility of a technical malfunction. The Russian news agency RIA quoted Russia’s charge d’affaires in the country, who was summoned by the Polish government, as stating that Poland had provided no proof of a border violation.

In a social media post on Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the security alliance is monitoring the situation and communicating with Polish officials.

“I spoke with President Andrzej Duda about the missile incident in Poland. NATO stands in solidarity with our valued ally, is monitoring the situation and we will remain in contact as the facts are established. NATO remains vigilant,” Stoltenberg said.

Operational commander of the Polish army Maciej Klisz said that the country’s air defence network had been on high alert due to recent Russian missile and drone attacks in Ukraine and that fighter jets were sent to intercept the missile before it left Polish territory.

The military also said that a ground search was being carried out in the area where the missile disappeared off the radar.

The White House on Friday said that US President Joe Biden was closely following the development in Poland. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan “expressed the United States’ solidarity with Poland, our close NATO ally” and pledged technical assistance as needed in a call with Polish Secretary of State Jacek Siewiera, according to a statement from the White House.

The incident is not the first time that the war in Ukraine has threatened to spill over into Polish territory. In November 2022, an errant Ukrainian air defence missile killed two civilians when it landed in the border village of Przewodow.

Poland’s newly elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who won the election with a bloc of pro-EU and pro-Ukraine parties that overthrew the country’s far-right government after eight years in power, has promised full support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

That war has ground on for nearly two years, with little end in sight as Ukraine fights to expel Russian forces that have established strong defences along the captured territory.

While Ukraine still has substantial support from many Western governments, schisms have started to emerge over the provision of further military assistance, including in the US, which has provided more support than any other country.

On Friday, the British defence ministry said that it would send 200 air defence missiles to Ukraine, which is currently under heavy bombardment from Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday that he visited Avdiivka, an eastern town near the front line that has seen heavy fighting.

“This is one of the most difficult areas of the front line,” he wrote on Telegram along with a video of him in front of a sign with the name of the town, giving medals to soldiers.

“I thank all those who are at the first line [of fire] for their service, for this year during which the entire country survived thanks to its soldiers,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies