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Apr-10-2010 12:47printcomments

Plane Crash in Russia: Tragedy for Poland

New presidential elections will be held before June 20.

Tupolev TU-154
The Tupolev TU-154 that crashed was manufactured in 1990.

(SMOLENSK / PATAGONIA) - A large contingent of high ranking Polish civilian and military leaders were killed this morning in a fiery crash at an airport near Smolensk in Russia.

Among the dead is Lech Kaczynski, Poland’s president who was en route to a memorial to honor Polish victims of a WW II massacre by the Soviet KGB.

Whatever the circumstances of the crash, the incident is bound to damage already strained relations between Warsaw and Moscow.

The aircraft carrying the Polish officials, an aging Tupolev TU-154, had been recently overhauled at a Russian maintenance facility.

While there are voices in Poland already charging Russian complicity in the crash, early reports seem to indicate that pilot error may have been the primary cause.

The Tupolev had made three prior attempts to land at the fogged-in Smolensk airport and the pilot had turned down several offers by air traffic control to abort the landing and fly on to Moscow.

On the fourth attempt, the plane’s landing gear became entangled in some treetops about one kilometer short of the runway, dropping the craft to the ground in a massive fireball.

Despite the apparent accidental nature of the crash, an exhaustive investigation into its causes will be conducted.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister was at the site in Smolensk waiting for the flight’s arrival with Donald Tusk, the Polish PM.

Putin immediately ordered that bodies and debris be shipped to Moscow for full forensic examination. Shutting Polish investigators out of the accident’s assessment does little to boost Polish confidence in Russian openness and honesty.

It was a commemoration of the murder of Polish officers by Russian forces during World War II that had brought President Kaczynski to his end.

At the outbreak of WW II, some 20,000 Polish officers had surrendered to the Soviet Red Army entering Poland from the east on the assumption that the Red Army was rushing to their rescue to save them from the invading Nazi battalions.

Unknown to the Poles, the USSR had concluded a secret pact with Germany to divide Poland between them and no rescue was intended.

The Polish officers were then transferred to Katyn forest near Smolensk where they were executed by the KGB and buried in a mass grave.

When the Germans retreated from Russia in 1943, they uncovered the execution site at Katyn and tried to alert the world to this outrage of Soviet brutality and duplicity.

The Russians, however, denied any role in the killings and have avoided taking responsibility until today. Had the plane landed safely, Vladimir Putin would have been the first Russian government official to attend a memorial for the victims of this great WW II tragedy.

Officially, Poland has moved to put this new tragedy behind as quickly as possible. There will be one week of official mourning for the victims of the crash and new presidential elections will be held before June 20.

President Kaczynski was an ultra-rightist who provoked Moscow by placing US missiles on Polish soil and interfered with PM Tusk’s attempts to improve relations with Russia. Kaczynski had not been expected to win re-election had elections been held in September as previously scheduled.

Lech Walesa, a former Polish president and leader of the solidarity movement that ended 43 years of Communist rule in Poland, called this crash “our second great tragedy after Katyn” and suggested that those responsible for the death of the president and the core of the Polish leadership should be found, exposed, and punished.

Accident or not, the crash and death of President Kaczynski and the Polish elite has dealt a severe blow to fragile relations between east and west.

Background on the Tupelov 154: Recent Tupolev-154 crashes ==============================================

Eddie Zawaski is a contributing writer based in Patagonia, Argentina.

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gp April 10, 2010 2:18 pm (Pacific time)

I can't believe any government would have so many of it's top officials on one plane. This seems really foolish.

Mommy April 10, 2010 1:02 pm (Pacific time)

i cant believe this. Im a polish newyorker... rest in peace everyone. That trully is the most horrible accident that has happened to my dear country.

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