Poland Blames Blast for 2010 Plane Crash, Gives No Evidence

  • Kaczynski says explosion led to tragedy at Russian airfield
  • Former investigator says ‘clear lies’ behind new allegations

Air wreckage near Smolensk airport. Photographer: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

Poland’s most powerful politician said a plane crash that killed his twin near a remote Russian airport seven years ago was probably caused by an explosion.

The authorities gave no new evidence for the claim first brought up by a government-appointed committee to re-examine the Smolensk tragedy. The country’s former chief air-crash investigator dismissed the assertion as imaginations running wild, while a U.K.-based investigator working on the case distanced himself from the inquiry.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law & Justice party whose brother, President Lech Kaczynski, died in Smolensk in 2010, told Poles to brace for more “attacks” on his colleagues as the government neared “the truth” about how the plane crashed. His party has ignored investigations by both Polish and Russian authorities that independently found that the disaster was mainly caused by pilot error.

“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 a gathering late on Monday near the Presidential Palace. “The attacks on us stem from the fact that we are closer than ever to the truth. We must stand ready for more resistance to the truth and for more hatred.”

The tragedy, which killed 96 people including top military brass, remains a lightning rod in Polish politics, with wide implications beyond the NATO member’s borders. Kaczynski and Beata Szydlo, his hand-picked prime minister, have also sought to boost patriotic sentiment by calling European Union demands for them to respect the bloc’s democratic standards as an attack on Poland’s sovereignty.

Deliberate Action

Kaczynski said that before the probable explosion, the control tower at the military airfield in western Russia deliberately misled pilots about the plane’s approach in foggy conditions. Last week, Polish prosecutors charged Russian air-traffic controllers of “intentionally causing an air-travel disaster,” the first accusation of calculated action against the president’s jet.

Some ruling party members, including Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, have said the crash was probably an “assassination.” His investigators said last year that evidence was manipulated, while Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has said that Russia has “something to hide.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia doesn’t understand the basis of Kaczynski’s claim.

As leading ruling party officials visited various Smolensk memorials on Monday the investigative committee aired a video that said “the last phase of the tragedy was caused by an explosion inside the plane.” Maciej Lasek, the former head of the state agency which investigates air disasters, including the Smolensk crash, dismissed the assertion.

International Standards

“This is phantasmagoria presented by people who’ve never investigated air crashes,” Lasek told TVN24. The report presented by the government-appointed committee includes “clear lies and ignores facts,” such as that the plane’s black boxes found no evidence of any mid-air explosions, he said.

Frank Tyler, a U.K.-based aviation safety consultant and accident investigator, told Bloomberg he declined an invitation to attend the committee’s conference on Monday because he had no chance to study evidence supporting the “explosion theory.”

“Without the full participation of qualified and experienced air accident investigators,” the Polish committee’s “well-intentioned technical studies do not meet the required international and EU standards for achieving a dependable investigation,” he said by email.

The Smolensk investigation risks further souring relations between Poland and Russia, and raises questions for the Warsaw government’s allies in the NATO military alliance. Under Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the U.S. and all other members would consider an armed attack on any one of them an attack on all.

Since the crash, Kaczynski has only worn black in public. On the 10th day of every month -- the monthly anniversary -- he holds a vigil in front of the Presidential Palace, repeatedly vowing to “bring to justice” those responsible for the disaster.

— With assistance by Konrad Krasuski, Dorota Bartyzel, Stepan Kravchenko, and Anton Doroshev

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