US and Russia clash over responsibility for missile strike

In this image made available by Polish Police, experts look through the site where a Russian-made missile hit, killing two men, in Przewodowo, eastern Poland, on Wednesday Nov. 16, 2022. Polish and NATO leaders say it was most probably an accident and not an intentional attack on Poland. (Polish Police via AP) (Uncredited)

TANZANIA – The U.S. and its Western allies clashed with Russia at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday over responsibility for a deadly missile strike in Poland near the Ukrainian border, an event the U.N. political chief called “a frightening reminder of the absolute need to prevent any further escalation” of the nine-month war in Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council: “This tragedy would never have happened but for Russia’s needless invasion of Ukraine and its recent missile assaults against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia countered, accusing Ukraine and Poland of trying “to provoke a direct clash between Russia and NATO.”

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The U.S. and Albania had called for a council update on the situation in Ukraine last week, and the meeting was dominated by Tuesday’s missile strike in Poland that killed two farm workers.

Nebenzia pointed to statements by Ukraine’s president and Polish officials initially indicating Russia was responsible. NATO’s chief and Poland’s president said Wednesday there is no indication it was a deliberate attack, and was likely a Soviet-era projectile launched by Ukraine as it was fending off Russian missiles and drones that savaged its power grid and hit residential buildings.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for political affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told the council that it was Russia’s “most intense bombardments” since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and the impact “can only worsen during the coming winter months.”

She reiterated that attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited under international law, noted that “heavy battles” are continuing in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk and told council members “there is no end in sight to the war.” She also warned that “as long as it continues, the risks of potentially catastrophic spillover remain all too real.”

Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. envoy, called the barrage of more than 90 missiles that rained down on Kyiv and other cities and targets devastating civilian infrastructure “a deliberate tactic” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He seems to have decided that if he can’t seize Ukraine by force, he will try to freeze the country into submission,” she said.

Poland’s U.N. Ambassador Krzysztof Szczerski told the council “those innocent people would not have been killed if there had been no Russian war against Ukraine.” And Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said: “We should be clear that this is a tragedy that indisputably stems from Russia’s illegal and unjustified invasion. And it’s inhumane assault on civilians across Ukraine.

But Russia’s Nebenzia said he wanted to remind those blaming Russia that what Moscow calls its “special military operation” wouldn’t have been needed if the Minsk agreements after the upheaval in Ukraine in 2014 that called for a degree of self-rule for the Russian-backed separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east had been fulfilled, and hadn’t led to an eight-year war.

Addressing the West, Nebenzia also said there would be no military action “if you had not interfered and did not supply Ukraine with weapons and ammunition” and encouraged Ukraine “to strive for peace on realistic terms rather than fuel its feverish fantasies about the possibility of victory over Russia, for the sake of which the Zelenskyy regime is senselessly throwing tens of thousands of its soldiers into the meat grinder.”

As for the missile attacks, Nebenzia said, “If you reacted to the terrorist actions of the Ukrainian special forces against Russia, we would not be forced to conduct precision strikes on infrastructure."

“But since you’re acting as you’re acting, while the Kyiv regime is taking credit for non-existent military prowess, we are forced to achieve the goals set for the special military operation by weakening the military potential of Ukraine,” he said.

Britain’s Woodward strongly disagreed, telling the council, “We are in no doubt that Ukraine will prevail in the face of Russia’s aggression.”

Pointing to the Russian withdrawal from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, she said, “The liberation of Kherson shows the strength, courage and determination of the Ukrainian people to defend their right to sovereign equality and territorial integrity guaranteed under the U.N. Charter.”

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