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Poland says a missile that crashed on its territory was friendly fire from Ukraine

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an update this morning on a missile strike that caused some deaths as well as anxiety around the world. Poland says it believes that a missile that crashed on their territory was friendly fire from Ukraine.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

But Ukraine says it doesn't think so. It's a high-stakes dispute. Either way, people were killed. But the question is whether the missile strike was a Russian attack or a Ukrainian mistake.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre is in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and has been following all this. Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the evidence, and who's gathering it?

MYRE: Well, Poland has sent a big team to this site on the eastern part of the country. And we're hearing today that they've been joined by a U.S. team. Now, two Polish citizens were killed there Tuesday. The missile left a huge crater. There's fragments, which should provide pretty convincing evidence on whose missile this was. And Poland's president says all this information points so far to a Ukrainian air defense missile that was trying to shoot down an incoming Russian missile. He calls it an unfortunate accident. But President Zelenskyy appeared on TV Wednesday and in some - just making some informal remarks said, I have no doubt that it was not our missile. And he says Ukraine will participate in an investigation. But he didn't provide any evidence to back up this statement.

INSKEEP: How significant is this disagreement?

MYRE: Well, it's notably right now mostly because Ukraine and its backers have all been on the same page, and Poland is not criticizing Ukraine. It understands why this could have happened. Also, the Biden administration and NATO have put out a statement saying it's Russia that's responsible. Here's NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENS STOLTENBERG: Let me be clear. This is not Ukraine's fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.

MYRE: And an important point, Steve - if this was a Russian missile, that would make this a lot more complicated. It would then be a strike on a NATO country - lots of difficult questions about how to respond. If it's a Ukrainian missile, it's much easier to call it an accident and just move on.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should be very clear. When we say the Biden administration is saying Russia is responsible, they're not saying it was a Russian missile. They're just saying it's Russia's fault for starting a war in which people are killed. Is that correct?

MYRE: That's right, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the larger question here. Ukraine is firing missiles in its defense because it's facing Russian missile barrages. How damaging have those barrages been?

MYRE: Well, Ukraine is pleading for more air defenses. And NATO held a meeting yesterday. And it was very interesting to see U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, sitting side by side, discussing the way forward in the war. Milley says Ukraine has the momentum, and Russia is hurting. But Ukraine's goal of driving out all the Russian troops will be very hard. So now may be a good time for Ukraine to negotiate. And Austin says that Ukraine has exceeded expectations throughout the war, so he's not going to set any limits. He made clear the U.S. would keep up strong military support.

INSKEEP: OK, Greg, thanks so much for the update. Really appreciate it.

MYRE: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre is in Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.