Poland’s football team protected by fighter jets on way to World Cup

World Cup: Poland escorted to Qatar by F1 fighter jets

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A missile strike that killed two men on Tuesday in a Polish village close to the Ukrainian border brought the conflict home and added to the long-suppressed sense of vulnerability in a country where the ravages of World War II are well remembered. The missile incident, the causes of which are yet to be confirmed, prompted the country’s national football team travelling to Qatar for the World Cup, to be escorted by F-16 fighter jets.

NATO and Polish leaders say the missile was most likely fired by Ukraine in defence against a Russian attack.

The attack coincided with a meeting of the G20 in Indonesia, attended by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – but not by Mr Putin, who sent his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in his place.

If Poland, as a NATO country, was deliberately attacked by Russia, NATO – including the UK and US – would have been obliged to come to its defence.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda on Thursday visited the site where the missile landed and expressed understanding for Ukraine’s plight. “It is a hugely difficult situation for them and there are great emotions, there is also great stress,” Mr Duda said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at a meeting of the 30-nation military alliance in Brussels, echoed the preliminary Polish findings. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, disputed them and asked for further investigation.

The assessments of Tuesday’s deadly missile landing appeared to dial back the likelihood of the strike triggering another major escalation in the nearly 9-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Still, Mr Stoltenberg and others laid overall but not specific blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.

“This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility,” he said.

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Mr Zelensky told reporters he had “no doubts” about a report he received from his top commanders “that it wasn’t our missile or our missile strike.” Ukrainian officials should have access to the site and take part in the investigation, he added.

“Let’s say openly, if, God forbid, some remnant (of Ukraine’s air-defences) killed a person, these people, then we need to apologise,” he said. “But first there needs to be a probe, access — we want to get the data you have.”

On Tuesday, he called the strike “a very significant escalation.”

Before the Polish and NATO assessments, US President Joe Biden had said it was “unlikely” that Russia fired the missile but added: “I’m going to make sure we find out exactly what happened.”

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A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman in Moscow said no Russian strike Tuesday was closer than 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the Ukraine-Poland border. The Kremlin denounced Poland’s and other countries’ initial response and, in rare praise for a US leader, hailed Biden’s “restrained, much more professional reaction.”

“We have witnessed another hysterical, frenzied, Russo-phobic reaction that was not based on any real data,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Later Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish ambassador in Moscow; the discussion reportedly lasted about 20 minutes.

The Polish president said the missile was probably a Russian-made S-300 dating from the Soviet era. Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, fields Soviet- and Russian-made weaponry and has also seized many more Russian weapons while beating back the Kremlin’s invasion forces.

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