Plane Crash May Strain Poland’s Ties With Russia
By NICHOLAS KULISH, ELLEN BARRY and MICHAL PIOTROWSKI
President Lech Kaczynski’s plane tried to land in a thick fog, missing the runway and snagging treetops about half a mile from the airport in
The crash came as a stunning blow to Poland, wiping out a large portion of the country’s leadership in one fiery explosion. And in a chilling twist, it happened at the moment that
“It is a damned place,” former President Aleksander Kwasniewski told TVN24. “It sends shivers down my spine.”
“This is a wound which will be very difficult to heal,” he said.
A top Russian military official said air traffic controllers at the
“Nevertheless, the crew continued the descent,” said Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Alyoshin, the first deputy chief of the Russian Air Force Staff. “Unfortunately, the result was tragic.”
Russian emergency officials said 97 people were killed. They included
Poles united in their grief in a way that recalled the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago. Thousands massed outside the Presidential Palace, laying flowers and lighting candles.
Magda Niemczyk, a 24-year-old student, held a single tulip. “I wanted to be together with the other Polish people,” she said.
“It’s a national tragedy,” said Ryszard Figurski, 70, a retired telecommunications worker. “Apart from their official positions, it is also simply the loss of so many lives.”
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, one of the highest-ranking Polish leaders not on board the plane, told Radio Zet in Poland that he was the one to inform Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who “was in tears when he heard about the catastrophe.”
The crash happened days after Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin became the first Russian leader to join Polish officials in commemorating the 1940 massacre at Katyn Woods, a wound that has festered between the two countries for decades and to Poles was a symbol of Russian domination.
Former President Lech Walesa, who presided over
“They wanted to cut off our head there, and here the flower of our nation has also perished,” he said.
The repercussions on
Under Poland’s Constitution, the leader of the lower house of Parliament, now acting president, has 14 days to announce new elections, which must then take place within 60 days.
While the crash is not likely to substantially change
Mr. Kaczynski, 60, a pugnacious nationalist who often clashed with Russia, was on his way to Katyn, where members of the Soviet secret police executed Polish officers captured after the Red Army invaded
Mr. Kaczynski, seen by the Kremlin as less friendly to Russia, was not invited. Instead, he decided to attend a separate, Polish-organized event on Saturday.
Russia’s leaders, acutely aware of the potential political fallout of the crash, immediately reached out to
The plane that crashed was a 20-year-old Tupolev Tu-154, designed by the Soviets in the mid-1960s and operated by the Polish Air Force. Russia halted mass production of the jet about 20 years ago, and about 200 of them are still in service around the world, said Paul Hayes, director of accidents and insurance at Ascend, an aviation consultancy in London. He said the Polish presidential jet was one of the youngest of them.
“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 said.
It was unclear whether the plane’s age was a factor in the crash. The crash site was cordoned off, but Russian news media reported that the airplane’s crew made several attempts to land before a wing hit the treetops and the plane crashed about half a mile from the runway. Correspondents at the scene said the plane’s explosion was so powerful that fragments of it were scattered as far as the outskirts of
A spokesman for
Among them, the Polish government said, were Mr. Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; Ryszard Kaczorowski, who led a government in exile during the Communist era; the deputy speaker of Poland’s Parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzinski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczyglo; the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrzej Kremer; the chief of the general staff of the Polish Army, Franciszek Gagor; the president of Poland’s national bank, Slawomir Skrzypek; and the commissioner for civil rights protection, Janusz Kochanowski.
Mr. Kaczynski was elected president in 2005 just as his identical twin brother, Jaroslaw, became head of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice government. He forged close relationships with
He was a major supporter of plans for part of an American antiballistic missile defense system to be based in
That plan is unlikely to be affected by the crash.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs