Poland blames Russians for plane crash that killed president, 95 others

Flowers are placed by a memorial stone during a remembrance ceremony at the site of the 2010 plane crash that killed former Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.—Reuters/File
Flowers are placed by a memorial stone during a remembrance ceremony at the site of the 2010 plane crash that killed former Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.—Reuters/File

WARSAW: Polish prosecutors alleged on Monday that a new analysis of evidence from the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed the Polish president shows that two Russian air traffic controllers and a third Russian official in the control tower deliberately contributed to the disaster.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman quickly rejected the Polish claims, which seemed likely to deepen already tense ties between Russia and Nato member Poland.

“The circumstances of this tragedy have been thoroughly studied, and we cannot agree with such conclusions,” Dmitry Peskov said.

Poland’s National Prosecutor Marek Kuczynski said there is “no doubt” that one of the causes of the crash was the behaviour of those in the control tower. Deputy prosecutor Marek Pasionek said the two air traffic controllers were guilty of “deliberately causing an air traffic catastrophe,” and said the third Russian official present was guilty of “assisting in deliberately causing a catastrophe.”

Polish investigators said they want to question the men and cannot reveal details about the evidence until that happens.

The crash on April 10, 2010, killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, many of them top Polish state and military leaders. The disaster occurred when the Polish crew tried to land in heavy fog at a rarely used airport near Smolensk, Russia. The plane clipped a tree on approaching the runway and crashed.

It was the worst tragedy in modern Polish history and at first the nation united in grief.

But the Smolensk tragedy has since become a highly divisive political issue, pitting liberal Poles against conservative supporters of Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former prime minister who now heads the populist ruling Law and Justice party.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Polish prime minister at the time, Donald Tusk, now a top European Union leader, bear guilt for the tragedy.

Kaczynski and his allies have made a range of allegations, at times suggesting that there was an explosive device on board that brought the plane down or that Putin ordered the assassination of the Polish leader, who was deeply critical of Russia. Other suggestions have included an unproven claim that the Russians produced fake fog to disorient the pilots.

They have also alleged that Tusk failed to provide adequate security for the presidential flight and that he failed to properly investigate the tragedy afterward or get back the wreckage or flight recorders, which remain in Russia almost seven years later.

Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz sent a note to military prosecutors last month accusing Tusk of committing the crime of diplomatic treason, alleging he worked with Putin to harm Poland’s interests after the crash.

Tusk strongly denies those claims and government critics believe Kaczynski and his nationalistic supporters have encouraged conspiracy theories to win political points with voters sceptical of Russia and pro-European liberals like Tusk. -AP

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