Poland Says Explosion Behind 2010 Plane Crash in Western Russia

  • Kaczynski tells Poles to brace for attacks as ‘truth’ is near
  • Poland accused Russian air controllers of deliberate action

Air wreckage near Smolensk airport.

Photographer: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

On the seventh anniversary of a plane crash that killed the Polish President at a remote Russian airfield, the country’s leader claimed an explosion probably led to the disaster.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s most powerful politician whose twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, died in Smolensk in 2010, told Poles to brace for more “attacks” on the nation’s authorities as his colleagues in government neared “the truth” about how the plane crashed. His Law & Justice party has ignored separate investigations by Polish and Russian authorities that found that pilot error was mainly at fault in the disaster.

Subject to conspiracy theories that blame the disaster on everything from missiles to fog machines, the tragedy remains a lightning rod in Polish politics, with implications beyond the NATO member’s borders. Party members including Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz have declared the crash was probably an “assassination.”

“We know with a very high degree of certainty that there was an explosion, and this is not the end of our quest for the truth," Kaczynski told an evening gathering near the Presidential palace in Warsaw. “The attacks on us stem from the fact are closer than ever to the truth, and we must stand ready for more resistance to the truth, and for more hatred.”

‘Us and Them’

Since the crash, Kaczynski has only worn black in public. On the 10th day of every month -- the monthly anniversary of the crash in April 2010 -- he holds a vigil in front of the Presidential Palace, repeatedly vowing to “bring to justice” those responsible for the disaster. He has blamed then Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is now European Union president, for allowing Russia to lead the crash-site investigation.

“Law & Justice uses the Smolensk catastrophe to fuel its ideology, to unite Poles against what it calls foreign threats,” said Beata Laciak, a sociology professor at the University of Warsaw. “Belief that the crash was a conspiracy serves as the dividing line for Law & Justice between ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

As leading officials, including Prime Minister Beata Szydlo -- who was hand-picked by Kaczynski to run the government -- visited various Smolensk memorials on Tuesday, a special investigative committee set up by the defence ministry to look into the crash held a news conference.

Waclaw Berczynski, the panel’s chief, said it was “fairly certain” that the Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-154 airliner broke apart while still in the air. Parts of the plane were found “several hundred meters” before it hit the ground near the landing strip, he said.

Black Boxes

Berczynski worked as an expert for a parliamentary panel led by Macierewicz when Law & Justice was in the opposition. That panel questioned the findings of the official Polish and Russian probes. The crash was preceded by a series of aircraft equipment failures, a partial destruction of one wing before the plane collided with a tree in the descent before the runway, while “the last phase of the tragedy was caused by an explosion inside the plane,” the committee said in a presentation Monday.

“This is phantasmagoria presented by people who never investigated air crashes,” Maciej Lasek, the former head of the state agency which investigates air disasters, including the Smolensk crash, told TVN24. The report presented by Law & Justice’s committee includes “clear lies,” especially since the plane’s black boxes found no evidence of an explosion or the sound of one.

Last week, prosecutors in Warsaw charged Russian air-traffic controllers of “intentionally causing an air-travel disaster,” the first accusation of deliberate action against the Polish president’s jet. In September, investigators appointed by Macierewicz said evidence had been manipulated, while Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that Russia has “something to hide” because it has refused to return the wreckage.

The plane remains at the Smolensk airport near the Katyn forest, where Soviets killed thousands of Polish officers during World War II.

— With assistance by Konrad Krasuski, and Dorota Bartyzel

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