The Army’s top general on Wednesday cautioned against rushing to conclusions during wartime, a day after Europe reeled from reports that missiles had struck Poland, killing two civilians.
Several European defense ministers and top Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, immediately blamed Russia for the strike in the hours after the first reports. In a video message late Tuesday night, Zelenskyy declared that “Russian missiles hit Poland,” calling it an “attack on collective security.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied the charge.
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies declined to comment Tuesday night, citing the ongoing Polish investigation. By Wednesday morning, the Polish government announced that the missile was likely an errant Ukrainian air defense missile sent to intercept one of the roughly 100 Russian cruise missiles aimed at Ukrainian civilian infrastructure the previous night.
“The first report you always want to take a hard look at, and you want to make sure you get the information,” Gen. James McConville said at POLITICO’s Defense Summit. “You want to … talk to people, get the questions answered, and then you’ve got an idea of what happened.”
Asked for details about how the Pentagon reacted in the early minutes of the crisis, McConville said that the “investigation is going on and we’ll find out the finer details, but the big thing is to remain calm during the situation.”
McConville added that his thoughts were with the victims in Poland, adding that the speed of modern warfare can amplify the impact of mistakes.
“When you have strong militaries with modern capabilities, sometimes you can miscalculate, or you can misconstrue what happened, and that can make for a very, very dangerous situation,” he said. “So the best way to avoid these types of situations is not to have a conflict” in the first place.
An adviser to the Ukrainian government told POLITICO that Ukraine shot down over 70 of the 90 Russian missiles launched Tuesday night, using a variety of older Soviet systems and more modern air defense weapons donated by NATO partners. The latest weapon donated by the U.S. — the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System — was used for the first time during the onslaught and shot down every target it engaged.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak via phone Tuesday night, stressing Washington’s commitment to defending Ukraine.
“We have full confidence in Poland’s ability to conduct this investigation in a proper way. Until that’s complete, I think it would be premature for anybody to jump to conclusions,” Austin told reporters after the monthly Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, noting that Ukraine has offered to help investigate.
Information gathered by the U.S. aligns with the initial results of Poland’s investigation, which found that the strike was likely from a Ukrainian air defense missile, Austin said. He vowed not to get ahead of the Poles, opting to “let that play out.”
Austin also spoke with Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov about the strikes in Poland. Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley also told reporters he spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyy. Neither went into details about those conversations.
Milley’s staff unsuccessfully attempted to reach out to his Russian counterpart Gen. Valery Gerasimov to protect against escalation, Milley said.