With Poland saying a Russian-made missile struck its territory on Tuesday, killing two people, Canada and other NATO members on both sides of the Atlantic are scrambling to discuss how to respond to a potential escalation in the war in Ukraine.
Defense Minister Anita Anand said earlier Tuesday that she was in touch with Polish authorities, while the Conservative Party blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death entirely.
The Polish government confirmed that its foreign minister summoned the Russian ambassador on Tuesday and issued a statement shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the missile attack as a “very significant escalation” and “demanded an immediate explain”.
Earlier Tuesday, Anand said only that Canada was monitoring the situation.
“I am receiving an update on the report and am in close contact with our Polish ally at this time. It would be unwise for me to comment further,” Anand said on his way into the lower house before asking questions.
But Conservative defense critic James Bezan went a step further, tweeting that his party unequivocally condemned Putin’s “callous and callous missile attack” and added “our deepest condolences to the people of Poland and Ukraine for the loss of their citizens” .
The NATO alliance was formed after World War II as a counterweight to the Soviet Union and currently has 30 members spread across North America and Europe.
Article 5, the cornerstone of its founding treaty, states that any “armed attack” against a member constitutes an attack against all members and may trigger a self-defensive response from allies as a group.
It was unclear whether Tuesday’s events fell into that category, or if they fell under Article 4, which allows member states to consult with other member states if they believe their security or independence is threatened.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Russian missiles entered Polish territory when a massive barrage struck Ukraine’s power grid and cut power to much of Moldova.
The report was attributed to an unnamed senior U.S. intelligence official, as well as a second source who reportedly confirmed the information.
Two people were killed when a shell hit a grain drying area in the village of Przewodów, near the Ukrainian border, on Tuesday afternoon, Polish media reported.
The reports have heightened fears that the ongoing war in Ukraine will spill over into Eastern Europe and spark a broader conflict between Russia and NATO, which has been backing Ukraine with money and arms rather than troops.
The Russian Defense Ministry has denied an attack near the Ukraine-Poland border and accused Polish media and officials of deliberately escalating the situation.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda about the “explosion” in Poland. “My condolences for the loss of life,” he added.
However, Stoltenberg also said that while the coalition is monitoring the situation and all allies are in close consultation, “it is important to establish all the facts.”
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Stoltenberg and Duda on Tuesday.
A readout of the latter call, released by the White House, said Biden “expressed the full United States support and assistance in the Polish investigation” of what was described as the “bombing.”
“President Biden reaffirmed America’s strong commitment to NATO,” the report said. “The two leaders indicated that they and their teams should remain in close contact to determine the appropriate next steps as the investigation progresses.”
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Vedante Patel said earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. had seen the reports and was “very concerned.”
“I want to make it clear again that we don’t want to go beyond what’s assumed. We don’t know what’s going on yet,” he said.
“We are working with our partners in the Polish government and our NATO partners to obtain additional information and assess what happened. When we make a decision, we will also determine the appropriate next steps.”
Zelensky was quick to accuse Russia of firing missiles at Poland, while he again called on NATO allies to step up support for his country.
“Terrorism is not limited to our borders. Russian missiles hit Poland,” Zelensky wrote in Ukrainian in a message posted on the social media site Telegram.
“Missiles fired into NATO territory, this is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a very important escalation. We must act.”
Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks also blamed Russia, which has a 2,000-strong NATO force led by 700 Canadian troops.
“Missiles launched by the (Russian) criminal regime not only targeted Ukrainian civilians, but also landed on NATO territory in Poland,” Pabriks said on Twitter. “Latvia fully stands with its Polish friends and condemns this crime.”
There are also 40 Canadian military engineers in Poland who are training Ukrainian troops.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in French on Tuesday that she did not have any specific comments to make, but she, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Melanie Jolly were in touch with allies.
Both Trudeau and Jolly attended the G20 summit in Indonesia on Tuesday, reports emerged after midnight local time.
Joly’s office responded to Anand’s comments in a written statement.
“We are aware of the reports. We are monitoring the situation and are in close contact with Poland and other partners on this,” said press secretary Adrian Blanchard.
—Mary-Danielle Smith and Lee Berthium, The Canadian Press
NATO Russia Ukraine