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Blinken denies missile incident shows communication rift with Ukraine

Ukrainian and Western officials have disagreed about who fired a missile that landed inside Poland

Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting Thursday in Bangkok. (Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters)

BANGKOK — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday denied that this week’s deadly missile explosion in Poland and subsequent disagreements over the missile’s origin revealed a lack of communication and coordination with Ukraine after contradictory statements between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Western leaders.

“We’ve been in regular contact with our Ukrainian partners throughout. I spoke to my Ukrainian counterpart. … We’re sharing the information that we have and, again, the investigation is ongoing,” Blinken told reporters during a news conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.

The top U.S. diplomat ignored a question about whether the incident cast doubt on the credibility of Zelensky’s claims. Instead, Blinken blamed Moscow for placing immense pressure on its smaller neighbor, which again this week has scrambled to intercept waves of Russian missiles aimed at civilian facilities throughout the country. Western officials believe it was an errant Ukrainian air defense missile that crossed the border on Tuesday and landed in Poland, killing two people.

Missile in Poland was accident, NATO says. But spillover fear remains.

Zelensky has waffled on his claim that the explosion had to be caused by a Russian projectile. He said earlier this week that he had “no doubt that it was not our missile,” forcing top U.S. and NATO officials to make a rare public break with the Ukrainian leader — a dramatic departure from their strenuous efforts to minimize daylight between them and Zelensky to show a united front against Russia.

“Russia is responsible for what happened,” Blinken said. “What we’re seeing every single day now is Russia raining down missiles in Ukraine, seeking to destroy its critical infrastructure, targeting the ability Ukraine has to keep the lights on, to keep the heat going to, to allow the country to simply live and move forward,” he said.

Zelensky backtracked somewhat on Thursday, telling an audience at an economic forum, “I don’t know 100 percent — I think the world also doesn’t 100 percent know what happened.”

Biden disputes Zelensky claims on Poland missile

Hours earlier, when President Biden was asked about Zelensky’s claims, he said he disagreed with his assessment, saying, “That’s not the evidence.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said there was “no indication” that the missile strike was the result of an attack by Russia.

U.S. officials said they were simply acting in accordance with the best assessments from their intelligence services, including information substantiating that the explosion was from at least one or as many as two Ukrainian SA-10 surface-to-air missiles that went off course, said a person familiar with new intelligence reporting.

Two senior U.S. administration officials said they would not dispute the characterization of intelligence linking Ukrainian missiles to the explosion. The officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

Instead of focusing on U.S. differences with Zelensky’s remarks, Blinken pledged to send more military assistance to help Ukraine fend off Russian missile strikes.

“Ukraine has a right to defend itself, and we’re committed to supporting Ukraine in every effort,” he said.

Top U.S. general tries to clarify his case for a negotiated end to Ukraine war

Ukrainian officials hope the missile incident will re-energize efforts in the West to provide sophisticated missile defense systems.

The Ukrainian SA-10 missiles U.S. intelligence officials believe were involved in the explosion are older and less reliable than the newer air defense missiles Kyiv received from the West; those have intercepted dozens of incoming Russian missiles. U.S.-supplied NASAMS, for example, are a higher quality ground-based defense missile.

If Ukraine did inadvertently fire an SA-10 missile deep into Polish territory, this would not be the first case of a Soviet-era missile missing its mark. Syrian air defense missiles, for instance, have in the past gone off course, landing in northern Jordan or rural Lebanon.

Blinken made his remarks on the second day of his meetings in Bangkok for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, where leaders are hoping to cooperate on a range of issues including coronavirus responses, the full resumption of international travel and lingering supply chain problems.

Biden is skipping the forum to attend a granddaughter’s wedding. In his place, Blinken and Vice President Harris are delivering remarks and holding bilateral meetings aimed at strengthening the United States’ economic integration into the Asia-Pacific — a region that accounts for about two-thirds of global economic activity.

Blinken said “what we do now” will determine the future of freedom and prosperity in the region and “will shape the trajectory of the 21st century.”

Blinken was joined at the forum by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who told reporters Thursday that the United States seeks to use trade policy to elevate women and entrepreneurs and “unlock economic opportunities for underrepresented parts of our populations.”

Harris is to give a speech at the APEC CEO summit on Friday in which she will detail the Biden administration’s economic agenda for the Asia-Pacific region.

“The central message of her remarks will be that the United States has an enduring economic commitment to the Indo-Pacific, and there is no better partner for the economies and companies of the Indo-Pacific than the United States of America,” a senior administration official said in advance of the trip.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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