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Polish Plane Crash a Tragedy

Not Russian treachery.

8:40 AM, Apr 13, 2010 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Polish leaders had been discussing replacing these Soviet-era Tupolevs with western aircrafts, but no allocations had yet been made in the Polish Air Force budget to do so.  The former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, himself a survivor of a helicopter crash in 2003, told Polish news services that he had been predicting just this type of catastrophe for as long as the presidential fleet continued to operate these older-model planes.  “I once said that we will one day meet in a funeral procession, and that is when we will take the decision to replace the aircraft fleet,” he was quoted as saying.

The culprit in this case, however, is not the aircraft but the civil aviation infrastructure that still has not decided to link up with the rest of the world.  The Polish aircraft was equipped with the western standard Instrument Landing System (ILS), but the Russian aerodrome - a former military airbase that now services a mix of civilian and air force traffic – had no ILS ground system or other landing aids.  In the heavy fog (and probably under pressure from the Polish president who did not want to divert to Minsk, Belarus, or Moscow as was recommended by Russian air traffic controllers), the pilot made three unsuccessful approaches and then a fourth attempt that resulted in the crash of the aircraft.

The greatest irony of all, however, is that this tragedy need not have occurred if the Russians had not succeeded in – as they have done so well throughout history – exploiting differences among the Poles.  The commemoration of this 70th year since the massacre was held as two separate events because of the divisions between Polish Primr Minister Donald Tusk’s more liberal Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform) party and president Kaczyński’s Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Order) party.  Tusk had already taken a delegation to a joint Russian-Polish ceremony at Katyń on 7 April at the invitation of Putin.  The Polish Council organized the official commemoration that Kaczyński was to attend on April 10 for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites.

It would be easy to assign some blame to Russia for this crash, but the simple fact is that tragedy seems to be the common denominator in relations between Moscow and Warsaw despite all attempts to the contrary.  Now for another generation of Poles the name Katyń will be once again associated with one of the saddest chapters in the history of these two nations.

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