The US Secretary of Defense blames the explosion in Poland on Putin’s war

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) — US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday said the deadly missile blast in Poland this week was a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “election war” against Ukraine, saying international stability and prosperity is on the rise stake conflict.

Austin made the remarks at the annual Halifax International Security Forum, which attracts defense and security officials from western democracies.

“The tragic and disturbing explosion in Poland this week reminded the entire world of the ruthlessness of Putin’s campaign,” Austin said.

Two workers were killed on Tuesday when a projectile hit the grain drying plant near the Polish-Ukrainian border. While the source of the missile is being investigated, NATO officials have said they suspect it was launched from a Ukrainian missile battery.

Officials from Poland, NATO and the United States have blamed Russia for the deaths anyway, saying a Ukrainian missile would not have failed had the country not been forced to defend itself against heavy Russian attacks that day.

Russian officials have portrayed the conflict as a fight against NATO – although Ukraine is not a NATO member, even if it has received aid from NATO member states.

Austin said NATO is a defensive alliance and poses no threat to Russia.

“Make no mistake: we will not be dragged into Putin’s election campaign. But we will stand by Ukraine as it struggles to defend itself. And we will defend every inch of NATO territory,” Austin said.

A Polish investigation to determine the source of the rocket and the circumstances surrounding the blast was launched with US support, and Ukrainian investigators joined the probe on Friday.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said in an interview broadcast live at the forum: “It is not correct to say that it is a Ukrainian or a Russian missile before the investigation is complete.”

Calling Putin’s invasion the worst security crisis since the end of World War II, Austin said the outcome “will help set the course of global security in this young century,” Austin said.

“Stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic are at stake. The US trade relationship with the European Union is the largest in the world. So when an attacker creates a huge security crisis in Europe, it hits Americans and Canadians on a daily basis.”

According to Austin, the US has deployed or expanded more than 20,000 additional US forces to Europe since late February, bringing the total to more than 100,000 American military personnel across Europe.

“Russia is not only waging a war of aggression. It also deliberately attacks civilian targets and civilian infrastructure – targets without any military purpose whatsoever. Well, these aren’t just omissions. These are no exceptions to the rule. These are atrocities,” Austin said.

He added that war “shows the whole world the dangers of disorder. This is the security challenge we face. It’s urgent and historic.

But we will meet it… the basic principles of democracy are under siege around the world,” he said.

He dismissed Putin’s claim that “modern Ukraine was created entirely by Russia,” calling it a vision of “a world where autocrats decide which countries are real and which countries can be wiped out.”

He drew comparisons to China’s increasing military activity across the Taiwan Strait.

“Beijing, like Moscow, aspires to a world where might makes right, disputes are resolved by violence and autocrats can snuff out the flame of freedom,” he said.

In its 14th year, about 300 people gather each year for the Halifax International Security Forum, held at Halifax’s Westin Hotel, where about 13 Ukrainian refugees now work.

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