At 5:30 a.m. local time in Bali, where the president attended the G20 summit, Biden, still dressed in a T-shirt and khakis, spoke by phone with his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, to clarify where he was coming from. The missile was actually launched, a critical event given the potentially dire implications of a Russian missile attack on a NATO ally.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who was traveling with Biden, was awakened by an aide knocking on the door at 4 a.m. local time to the news of the explosion, a US official said. Public statements and conversations with Polish officials.
Blinken and National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan spoke with their Polish counterparts and joined Biden for the call with Duda.
Polish officials began hearing about a possible explosion in the eastern border village of Przewodow around 10 a.m. Tuesday, or 11 a.m. ET, and information began to leak publicly and allies were notified around 1 p.m. ET, or 2 a.m. ET. In Bali.
As the morning progressed there and more intelligence gathered, American officials examining satellite-based intelligence systems and talking to their Polish counterparts appeared to have hit a Polish farm on the eastern edge of the country. Ukraine was launched as part of its air defense system.
After hours of tension, Biden first eased the tension, telling reporters that the initial information was that the missile had not been launched by Russia.
The relief among American officials was palpable. Contrary to their worst fears, an official said preliminary intelligence indicated that Russia had not deliberately attacked Poland. But for Biden and his advisers, the episode still represented a scenario they had long feared: an accidental attack on NATO territory, the implications and consequences of which remained murky.
A call for peace in Ukraine
With the situation so fluid, Biden’s advisers urged calm and patience, including with Ukrainian officials.
About an hour after news of the incident, Volodymyr Zelensky said in a late-night speech that “Russian missiles have landed in Poland,” calling it a “very important escalation” that required a response.
Sullivan quickly called Zelensky’s office after those comments and urged officials to be more careful about how they discussed the incident, sources familiar with the call said. Biden and Zelensky did not speak Tuesday night, despite requests from the Ukrainian leader to set up the call, a source familiar with the matter said.
The U.S. and Poland soon agreed to work closely together on the investigation into the attack, and CIA Director Bill Burns met with Duda in Warsaw on Wednesday night, a U.S. official said. Hours earlier, Burns had taken refuge in the US embassy in Kyiv as Russian missiles rained down on the city.
But the incident has also created some cracks in the West’s alliance with Ukraine.
Biden and Duda have now publicly said the missile originated from Ukraine’s air defense system, a claim Zelensky continues to vehemently deny, much to the dismay of Polish officials, the sources said.
While Biden spoke with Duda and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg after the attack, during emergency talks with world leaders at the G20, the president did not speak directly with Zelensky on Wednesday afternoon, sources said.
Instead, Sullivan spoke with Zelensky’s chief of staff in the hours after the bombing, and Blinken spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba.
Zelensky said on Wednesday that Ukraine has also requested to join an investigative team consisting of US and Polish officials examining the site of the missile attack. “We have to participate in the investigation,” he told reporters. But that request has not yet been fulfilled.
Trouble at the Pentagon
Back in Washington on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in a meeting with Assistant Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley when an aide interrupted with the blast and the three officials called their Polish counterparts. Soon.
A little later, around 2 p.m., a press conference with Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder was minutes away. But few Pentagon officials learned about the missile that hit Poland through the media, and the Pentagon had nothing to confirm a Russian missile launch that struck NATO territory.
Pentagon officials had to decide whether or not to proceed, and they had no information to immediately present the most important issue of the day.
Ultimately, one official told CNN, the convention went ahead, and its last-minute cancellation indicated officials were eager to avoid the right kind of panic.
As Ryder stood on stage, he received repeated questions about the missile, which still had no answer.
Meanwhile, Milley was in his office in the Pentagon’s outer ring, instructing his staff to prepare several phone calls, officials said. First it was his Polish counterpart, soon his Ukrainian counterpart. He spoke by phone with other defense chiefs and European Command commander General Chris Cavoli.
Milli’s staff worked to bring his Russian counterpart, Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimo, online. The two last spoke in late October, the only time they have held talks since the Russian invasion began. But this time, there was no call and the two did not speak on Tuesday night.
That night, Millie and Austin recount what they learned about the incident to Biden.
A clear picture
On Wednesday, several top US officials publicly said that intelligence had pointed to the accidental landing of a Ukrainian air defense missile in Poland. The US shared classified information with its allies ahead of a North Atlantic Council meeting Wednesday morning at NATO headquarters, an official said.
“We have found nothing to contradict President Duda’s initial assessment that the explosion may have been the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland,” National Security Council spokesman Adrian Watson said in a statement.
Initial inspections of the blast site found debris from a Soviet-era S-300 missile, sources familiar with the intelligence said. Several U.S. and NATO officials said a Ukrainian air defense missile attempted to intercept a Russian missile but missed and landed in Poland.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Duda said, “In the information we and our partners have received, there is no evidence that this is an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket, and that it was launched by the Russian side. . It was probably shot down by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses.
The U.S. has determined that the Russian missile continued on its path and may have hit or landed too close to its target, an official said.
Meanwhile, Zelensky continues to insist that the missile was not launched by Ukrainian forces. On Wednesday, he told reporters in Kyiv: “I have no doubt that this is not our missile,” citing statements he received from the command of the Ukrainian armed forces and air force.
Zelensky expressed frustration that Ukrainian officials were not allowed to join the joint Polish-American investigation of the site, saying he wanted to see “the number on the missile, because all the missiles have numbers.”
“Do we have the right to be on a panel of inquiry?” Zelensky questioned. “Of course”.
CNN’s Katie Bo Lillis and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.