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News brief: Missile strike in Poland, explosions in Ukraine's capital, Trump 2024

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

An explosion in Poland, just miles from its border with Ukraine, has killed two people. Polish authorities say they were hit by what appears to be a Russian-made missile.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

But President Biden, who was in Indonesia at the time for the G-20 summit, told reporters that there is preliminary information that, quote, "contests" the idea that the explosion in Poland came from Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's unlikely in the minds of the trajectory that it was fired from Russia.

FADEL: NPR's Emily Feng is in Bali, Indonesia, where Biden attended the G-20 summit, and she joins us now. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's get into this. What do we know about this explosion in Poland at this point?

FENG: So it happened late night in an eastern Polish village just a couple of miles from Poland's border with Ukraine. And the initial fear, of course, was that this had come from Russia. But now the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal are reporting that, according to three anonymous American intelligence officials, that they think based on just an initial assessment, that this could be a Ukrainian-fired missile that was supposed to intercept and destroy an incoming Russian missile. Now, there have been dozens of Russian missiles fired at major Ukrainian cities this week, and Ukrainians have been stepping up their air defense systems to protect their own people. But every so often, these defenses can deflect a Russian missile, so it causes them - or the debris from them - to land somewhere unexpected.

But again, the idea that this could be a Ukrainian-fired missile is just an initial assessment. And the NATO security alliance, the U.S., they've all said they support Poland in doing a more thorough investigation first.

FADEL: So it sounds like NATO leaders, including what we heard from Biden, are really treating this explosion with extreme caution over concern that this could expand the war in Ukraine beyond the Ukrainian borders. What have Poland, Ukraine, Russia said about the explosion?

FENG: Ukraine's president was quick to blame Russia. He called the explosion a major escalation. Earlier Tuesday, Ukraine was hit by nearly 100 Russian missile strikes, which have killed even more ordinary people. Russia, however, outright denied firing the missile that hit the Polish village. They've called that allegation a, quote, "intentional provocation" with the goal of escalating the situation. Now, Biden and the NATO secretary-general each called Poland's president today to assure him that he has the full weight of NATO behind him. But at this point, it's just not clear this was an intentional attack on a NATO country, and so there needs to be more investigation done first.

FADEL: Now, this happened in the middle of the G-20 summit, which has been contentious in part because of the war in Ukraine, right?

FENG: Yes. Biden and other countries in the G-7 group today held this emergency roundtable because they conveniently were all in Indonesia for the G-20 summit. They reiterated their support for Ukraine and for Poland. But other countries here at the G-20, mostly from South and Southeast Asia, have been really split over whether to formally condemn Russia.

FADEL: OK.

FENG: And that's been frustrating for Biden, especially with Russian missile attacks coming into Ukraine Tuesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: And the moment when the world had come together at the G-20 to urge de-escalation, Russia continues to have chosen to escalate in Ukraine while we're meeting.

FENG: A meeting where countries went in trying to agree on what to do about the war in Ukraine and the suffering it's caused, but they likely won't come out of it with a complete agreement on what to do. And now we have this latest twist in Poland.

FADEL: Yeah. NPR's Emily Feng. Thank you so much.

FENG: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: We now turn to the view from inside Ukraine, where barrages of Russian missiles have been hitting Ukrainian cities. NPR's Greg Myre is in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and has also been following the story. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Greg, what are the Ukrainians saying about this explosion in Poland?

MYRE: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke in a brief video this morning. He wished everybody a normal day, and he didn't say anything about whose missile this might have been in Poland. Now, this is in contrast to his initial comment last night when he said very explicitly that this was a Russian missile.

FADEL: Now, you were there yesterday when Kyiv came under sustained Russian missile attacks. Give us a sense of what that was like.

MYRE: Well, at this point, everybody knows the drill because this is the fourth time we've had a big barrage in the past month. The air raid sirens went off in the afternoon all around the country, meaning that Russian launches had been detected, so we knew the missiles would be coming in about 20 minutes or so. People took shelter. We started hearing explosions in Kyiv, though it's hard to tell if this is incoming Russian missiles striking or outgoing Ukrainian air defenses firing. Within about 30 minutes or so, we got the reports that there were missile strikes in Kyiv and other cities all around the country, east to west, north to south. And this included Lviv in the very west of the country, near the border with Poland.

FADEL: Well, I'm glad you're safe. I understand you visited one of the sites where it was hit in Kyiv. What did you find there?

MYRE: So a Russian missile hit an apartment building about a 10-minute drive from our hotel here in central Kyiv. Now, this was a very typical Soviet-era five-story apartment block surrounded by other buildings just like it. There were certainly no military targets that were evident, no electrical grid. So one possibility is that the Ukrainians, their defenses hit an incoming Russian missile, and the remnants of that Russian missile crashed into the apartment. The missile went into a third floor window of this building and set off a raging fire with thick, black smoke. And it killed a woman who lived there. Now, residents were gathered outside in the darkness by the time we got there, and I spoke to one of them, Vladimir Yanachuk, and asked him about what he expects this winter.

VLADIMIR YANACHUK: We are not afraid about this, Ukrainian not afraid about this. And winter will be hard, but this winter will be hard not only on Ukrainians, for Russian soldiers, too.

MYRE: And as we continued talking on the street, the lights suddenly came on in the surrounding apartment buildings, though not the one that had been hit. But it's a real testament to how Ukraine is scrambling to keep the lights on in the face of these Russian attacks.

FADEL: Yeah. And with these missiles hitting the energy grid, will Ukraine be able to keep repairing its electricity grid, or will these Russian attacks cause a major humanitarian crisis in the cold this winter?

MYRE: Yeah, Leila, this is a huge challenge, and it's getting harder. Kyiv's mayor said about half the city was without power last night. Other cities also have had extensive power outages. Now, the Ukrainians are quite capable of making these repair. The question is having enough workers and, more importantly, having enough equipment needed to replace these damaged facilities. It's going to be an ongoing battle in the months ahead.

FADEL: That's NPR's Greg Myre in Kyiv in Ukraine. Thank you so much, Greg. Stay safe.

MYRE: My pleasure. Will do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Former President Donald Trump announced what some in his party have been quietly dreading.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.

(CHEERING)

MARTÍNEZ: The speech to guests at his Mar-a-Lago resort sounded a lot like his usual rally speeches. He touted his accomplishments as president, criticized the current president and repeated his lies about the 2020 election, an election he tried to overturn.

FADEL: Here to break down what we heard and did not hear is NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben. Hi, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So no surprise Trump is running again for president. Did we learn anything new from his announcement?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, like A said up top, this was pretty standard Trump fare. It was an hour-ish long. And during that, he tried to make the case that Joe Biden is a terrible president, as he often does. And he also touted - or, as it happens, inflated - the size of his accomplishments as president. For example, he claimed credit for a strong economy during his presidency, which involved overstating the size of tax cuts that happened. And also, presidents don't really have very tight of a grip on the economy, certainly not as tight as they like to think.

FADEL: Yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: It was also a pretty Trumpy speech in that it was light on policy promises. He did talk about, for example, wanting term limits for Congress members. He said he wants to seek the death penalty for people involved in drug trade, which is a line he's been saying at some rallies this year, and it fits, I guess, with his over-the-top rhetoric about crime, which is also pretty usual. One thing that was interesting, though, is that it was a pretty low-energy speech, you could say. He seemed pretty subdued. There was just quite a bit less bombast than usual. And as for why, who knows? Maybe he's trying to predict seriousness, or maybe he's just been taken down a peg or two because of the midterms.

FADEL: I mean, let's talk about that because many of the candidates that he endorsed this year lost in the midterms. So how did he try to spin that into a 2024 campaign?

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah, because in the speech, he really downplayed Republican losses in the midterms and attempted to say that he had a great record with his endorsements. But as we know, plenty of Trump-backed Republican candidates in high-profile races lost, and as a result, Democrats were able to retain control of the Senate. For example, Mehmet Oz, Blake Masters, candidates in Pennsylvania and Arizona, were Senate candidates who failed to win. And it is true he could face a challenge on the GOP side. There are plenty of people, like Ron DeSantis, who seem quite ready to try to challenge him. But it's so early, we should say.

FADEL: Yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: We have no idea what's going to happen. One thing we do know is that there are so many times people have tried to count former President Trump out, and he has stuck around through all those things.

FADEL: Yeah. And then there are, of course, the ongoing legal troubles. What happens to those if he runs?

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. There is, of course, the raid on his home at Mar-a-Lago this summer, where the DOJ uncovered classified documents in his possession. He actually referenced that in his speech, saying that that raid shows he was unfairly targeted. And that's just one example. Now, if he's running for president, it could complicate DOJ investigations because if a sitting president oversees a Department of Justice that arrests or charges a political rival, that could look really bad, be really controversial. One thing we do know is that The Washington Post reported Tuesday that there has been discussion at the DOJ of appointing a special counsel if Trump ran. Well, he is running now. So we'll see what happens.

FADEL: We'll see what happens. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thank you so much for your time.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.