A missile that killed two people in Poland was probably not fired from Russia, US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday after an emergency meeting of NATO leaders called to discuss what Poland called a strike by a Russia-made projectile, Reuters reported.
The explosion on Tuesday at a grain facility near the Ukrainian border came as Russia unleashed a wave of missile attacks targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure, raising concerns the conflict could spill into neighbouring countries.
According to Reuters the Polish foreign ministry said the rocket fell on Przewodow, a village about 6 km (4 miles) from the border with Ukraine. Russia denied it was responsible for the explosion but Polish officials said the missile was Russian-made.
A resident who declined to be identified said the two victims were men who were near the weighing area of a grain facility.
A Russian strike on Poland could risk widening the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are committed to collective defence under its Article 5, read the report.
Biden convened a meeting of leaders gathered for the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss the incident. Leaders from NATO members Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France and Britain attended, as well as non-NATO member Japan and representatives from the European Union.
Asked whether it was too early to say if the missile was fired from Russia, Biden said: “There is preliminary information that contests that. I don’t want to say that until we completely investigate it, but it is unlikely in the lines of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia but we’ll see.”
The United States and NATO countries would fully investigate before acting, Biden said.
The explosion in Poland came as Russia pounded cities across Ukraine with missiles, in attacks that Kyiv said were the heaviest wave of strikes in nearly nine months of war. Some hit Lviv, which is less than 80 km (50 miles) from the border with Poland, Reuters reported.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian missiles hit Poland in a “significant escalation” of the conflict. He did not provide evidence of Russia’s involvement.
“All of Europe and the world must be fully protected from terrorist Russia,” he said in a tweet after a phone call with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Two European diplomats said Poland requested a NATO meeting under the treaty’s Article 4 for consultations among the allies. Poland was also increasing the readiness of some military units, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
Polish officials sought to avoid inflaming the situation. Morawiecki called on all Poles to remain calm, and President Duda said there was no concrete evidence showing who fired the missile and that it was a one-off incident, read the report.
Biden told Duda in a call that Washington has an “ironclad commitment to NATO” and will support Poland’s investigation, the White House said.
The Associated Press earlier cited a senior US intelligence official as saying the blast was due to Russian missiles having crossed into Poland.
But in Washington, the Pentagon, White House and US State Department said they could not corroborate the report and were working with the Polish government to gather more information. The State Department said the report was “incredibly concerning.”
Germany and Canada said they were monitoring the situation, and the European Union, the Netherlands and Norway said they were seeking more details. French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a verification effort, while Britain was “urgently” looking into the report.
According to Reuters Russia’s defence ministry denied that Russian missiles hit Polish territory, describing such reports as “a deliberate provocation aimed at escalating the situation”.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he had no information on an explosion in Poland.
Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Artis Pabriks said the situation was “unacceptable” and it could lead to NATO providing more anti-aircraft defences to Poland and Ukraine.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Twitter: “Every inch of #NATO territory must be defended!”
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Kyiv had warned of the danger Russian missiles posed to neighbouring countries and called for a no-fly zone to be imposed, read the report.
“We were asking to close the sky, because sky has no borders. Not for uncontrolled missiles. Not for the threat they carry for our EU & NATO neighbours. Gloves are off. Time to win,” he said in a Twitter post.
Second Chinese suspected spy balloon spotted over Latin America, US says
A Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over Latin America, the Pentagon said Friday, a day after a similar craft was seen in US skies, prompting the scrapping of a rare trip to Beijing by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Pentagon said the first balloon was now heading eastwards over the central United States, adding it was not being shot down for safety reasons, AFP reported.
Later Friday, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said: “We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America.”
“We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” he added, without specifying its exact location.
Moments before Blinken’s decision to cancel his trip — aimed at easing tensions between the two countries — China issued a rare statement of regret over the first balloon and blamed winds for pushing what it called a civilian airship into US airspace.
But US President Joe Biden’s administration described it as a maneuverable “surveillance balloon.”
In a telephone call with senior Chinese official Wang Yi, Blinken said he “made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act.”
Blinken said, however, that he told Wang “the United States is committed to diplomatic engagement with China and that I plan to visit Beijing when conditions allow.”
“The first step is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace. That’s what we’re focused on,” Blinken told reporters.
“China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law,” Xinhua quoted Wang as telling Blinken.
“We do not accept any groundless speculation and hype,” he said, calling both sides to “avoid misjudgments and manage divergence.”
On Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry released a statement addressing Blinken’s announcement that his trip would not go ahead.
“Some politicians and media in the United States used the [balloon] incident as a pretext to attack and smear China,” it said.
The statement further added in regard to Blinken’s trip, which had been widely publicized in the United States: “As a matter of fact, neither China nor the United States has announced any visit.
“It is the United States’ own decision to release the relevant information and we respect that.”
Blinken would have been the first top US diplomat to visit China since October 2018, signaling a thaw following intense friction under former president Donald Trump.
Last month, Blinken said he would use the trip to help establish “guardrails” to prevent the relationship from escalating into all-out conflict.
Chinese spy balloon flies over the United States, Pentagon says
A Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, U.S. officials said on Thursday, in what would be a brazen act just days ahead of a planned trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Reuters reported.
Fighter jets were mobilized, but military leaders advised President Joe Biden against shooting the balloon out of the sky for fear debris could pose a safety threat, advice Biden accepted, U.S. officials said.
The United States took “custody” of the balloon when it entered U.S. airspace and had observed it with piloted U.S. military aircraft, one of the officials told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Separately, Canada’s defense ministry said a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” was detected and that it was monitoring a “potential second incident”, without giving further details, adding that it was in frequent contact with the United States.
The news initially broke as CIA Director William Burns was speaking at an event at Washington’s Georgetown University, where he called China the “biggest geopolitical challenge” facing the United States.
“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters. “The balloon is currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Beijing was “verifying” the situation.
“I would like to emphasize that until the facts are clarified, speculation and hype will not be helpful to the proper resolution of the issue,” she told a regular daily briefing in Beijing on Friday, adding that China abides by international law.
“China has no intention of violating the land territory and airspace of any sovereign country,” Mao said.
U.S. officials said they raised the matter with their Chinese counterparts through diplomatic channels. “We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue,” a U.S. official said.
One U.S. official said the balloon was assessed to have “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective.”
Blinken is expected to travel to China next week for a visit agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was not clear how the discovery of the spy balloon might affect those plans.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said the spy balloon was alarming but not surprising.
“The level of espionage aimed at our country by Beijing has grown dramatically more intense & brazen over the last 5 years,” Rubio said on Twitter.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton called for Blinken to cancel his trip.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would request a “Gang of Eight” briefing, referring to a classified national security briefing for congressional leaders and Republican and Democratic leaders of the intelligence committees.
Relations between China and the United States have soured in recent years, particularly following then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, which prompted dramatic Chinese military drills near the self-ruled island.
Since then, Washington and Beijing have sought to communicate more frequently and prevent ties from worsening.
India raises defence budget to $72.6 bln amid tensions with China
India proposed on Wednesday 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defence spending for the 2023-24 financial year, 13% up from the previous period’s initial estimates, aiming to add more fighter jets and roads along its tense border with China, Reuters reported.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 1.63 trillion rupees for defence capital outlays – an expenditure that would include new weapons, aircraft, warships and other military hardware, as she unveiled nearly $550 billion of total federal spending in the annual budget for 2023-24 starting in April.
She said 2.77 trillion rupees would be devoted to military salaries and benefits in 2023-24, 1.38 trillion on pensions for retired soldiers, and further amounts for miscellaneous items.
itharaman also revised the defence budget for the current financial year ending in March to 5.85 trillion rupees from earlier estimates of 5.25 trillion.
In the past few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up spending to modernise the military, while underlining his government’s commitment to boosting domestic production to supply forces deployed along two contentious borders, Reuters reported.
Laxman Behera, a defence expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the hike in the defence budget was “reasonable but not sufficient”, considering requirements for military modernisation.
“The government has tried to allocate reasonable funds for defence forces while balancing other priorities during the pre-election budget,” he said, noting India needed more funds in view of growing friction with China along disputed borders.
The total Indian defence budget, estimated at about 2% of GDP, is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) in allocations for 2022, which New Delhi sees as posing a threat to neighbours including India and Japan, read the report.
“The overall increase in the armed forces’ budget is as anticipated, but likely lower than what they asked for to beef up operational capabilities,” said Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser for acquisitions at the Defence Ministry.
India plans to spend near 242 billion rupees ($3 billion) for naval fleet construction and 571.4 billion rupees ($7 billion) for air force procurements including more aircraft, the latest budget document showed.
The South Asian giant employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces, with large numbers deployed along borders with nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan.
Although the defence budget allocations fell short of military expectations, they are likely to grow as the economy recovers from two years of pandemic curbs, according to Behera.
India and China share a 3,500-kilometre (2,100-mile) frontier that has been disputed since the 1950s. The two sides went to war over it in 1962.
At least 24 soldiers were killed when the armies of the Asian giants clashed in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, in 2020 but tensions eased after military and diplomatic talks, Reuters reported.
A fresh clash erupted in the eastern Himalayas in December last year but no deaths were reported.
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