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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 27, 2011
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Row Over Russian Crash Report
January 27, 2011   
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A report on the causes of the crash of the Polish president’s plane outside Smolensk April 10 last year, published by Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, met with outrage in Poland and triggered the sharpest political dispute in months.

The Russian committee Jan. 12 unveiled its final report on its investigation into the Smolensk crash, which killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others. The investigators concluded the main causes of the disaster were the decision to land despite bad weather warnings and a lack of consent from air traffic controllers, deficiencies in the pilots’ training, their own errors and “indirect pressure” exerted on the crew. The report lays all the blame for the crash on the Polish side, and finds no fault in the condition of Smolensk’s Severny airport or the operations of the Russian controllers.

“While approaching to land, the crew relied exclusively on their own instruments. They attempted to land, despite very bad flying conditions,” Tatyana Anodina, head of the Russian committee, told a news conference in Moscow. She noted that at the time of takeoff from Warsaw, the crew had no report on the actual weather conditions in Smolensk or updated navigation information.

Anodina said it could be assumed that the crew was under pressure. One reason may have been the presence in the cockpit of Gen. Andrzej Błasik, Poland’s air force commander, and Mariusz Kazana, a foreign ministry official and liaison to President Kaczyński. However, the plane’s flight voice recorder did not register any orders given by the president. Anodina also said that 0.06 percent of alcohol was found in Gen. Błasik’s blood—above the legal limit for drivers in many EU countries.

Wave of criticism
The report triggered a wave of criticism from Polish politicians, especially the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party. Its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of the late president, called the report a “set of speculations” and described it as a slap in the face for the Polish state as well as evidence of the ineptitude of the Polish government. The foreign minister in the previous PiS government, Anna Fotyga, said she felt as if someone “spat in my face.” PiS deputy Beata Kempa said the information about alcohol in Gen. Błasik’s blood was like a “shot in the back of the head.” She compared the Russian committee’s action to those of the NKVD secret police who executed thousands of Polish officers in Katyn Forest 70 years ago. The words of Marcin Dubieniecki, the husband of the late president’s daughter Marta Kaczyńska, speaking as his wife’s proxy, were the most radical. He suggested that the Smolensk crash could have been an operation to assassinate Kaczyński planned by Moscow. Dubieniecki suggested that the Kremlin could have wanted to get rid of Kaczyński because of his support for Georgia and his political activities within the European Union, some of which could weaken Russia’s position.
The official reaction from Warsaw was much calmer. “The report is incomplete,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the day after the Russian report was published.

Russian mistakes’
A special commission appointed by the Polish Interior Ministry to investigate the crash presented its conclusions in Warsaw Jan. 18. The Polish investigators concluded that the Russian traffic controllers had made many mistakes. A phone conversation between the controllers proves that even before the Polish plane took off from Warsaw, they had known that the weather in Smolensk was so bad that it would be difficult to land, but they failed to tell the Polish crew about it. Neither did they tell the crew that the plane was not following the right approach path. To the contrary, they assured the pilots they were on the correct course. The minimum height at which the plane should have been flying as it made the approach was 100 meters, but the plane was actually flying at 30 meters. As a result, the pilots were unable to heed the “Pull up!” command of the plane’s Terrain Awareness and Warning System, according to the Polish commission.

Opposition furious
After the release of the Russian report, the controversy over the Smolensk crash reached boiling point. The Polish parliament became the venue for the most heated political dispute in recent months. On Jan. 19, Prime Minister Tusk reported to the parliament on the investigation and then for several hours answered deputies’ questions, many of them accompanied by ferocious attacks on Tusk and his ministers. “Throughout the long history of our nation, it happened that we lost our freedom, but we never lost our dignity,” Jarosław Kaczyński told the chamber. “Now, under Donald Tusk’s leadership, we may lose our dignity and our freedom will also be in danger,” he added, suggesting that the Polish investigation report had been written on the orders of Moscow.

Other PiS parliamentarians accused the government of treason and “obeying Putin’s orders.” The deputies demanded that legal steps be taken against Anodina and the Russian committee, that an international commission should be set up, and that Russia should be forced to apologize for tarnishing the reputation of Gen. Błasik.

“This discussion was about war rather than politics,” said Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, one of the ministers who came under the fiercest criticism, in summing up the parliamentary debate. “The arguments put forward in its course were such as if a war had ended, a war that Poland lost on all fronts, when the commander-in-chief is brought to account for the defeat.”

A full Polish report on the causes of the Smolensk crash is to be made public by the end of February. It looks set to result in another eruption of the dispute, which political commentators predict will last at least until this year’s parliamentary election.
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