On January 30, as part of our ongoing series on the Intermarium, the Kościuszko Chair’s research assistant, Mr. Paweł Styrna, spoke about recent developments regarding the Smolensk Plane Crash of April 2010. He has written two substantive articles on the disaster and delivered a previous lecture about it at IWP in May 2011.
The crash claimed the lives of all the 96 passengers on board—including the Polish presidential couple and many members of the nation’s political and military elite—who were heading to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre, where the Soviets had slaughtered 25,000 Polish officers and members of other social leadership strata in 1940. The circumstances of the crash were highly suspicious. Moscow’s stone-walling and Warsaw’s docility only helped fuel the impression that the catastrophe was more than just a tragic accident.
The Kremlin released its official report on the crash in January 2011 (the MAK Report), which pinned the entire blame on the Poles. The government in Warsaw—apparently fearing to displease Moscow—published its own report (i.e. the Miller Commission Report) in July 2011, which pointed out some Russian shortcomings but generally did not challenge the MAK narrative. Since the crash and the publication of these documents, the official version has been debunked by an independent commission in the Polish parliament (the so-called Macierewicz Commission) and several scientists and experts. IWP professor Gene Poteat made the initial investigation of the crash that questioned Russia’s claim the crash was pilot error, leading others around the world to take a second look. Poteat was not clairvoyant, but he understood Communism’s murderous history, much of what he acquired as a student at IWP. University of Ohio engineering professor Wiesław Binienda proved that a birch tree could not have possibly snapped off the tip of the plane’s left wing. He also emphasized that the disintegration of the wreckage coupled with the lack of a crater show that the plane did not crash. Kazimierz Nowaczyk and Grzegorz Szuladziński, in turn, pointed to two explosions as the most probable culprits.
Yet, many new revelations surfaced since these discoveries. For instance, the Russians clearly mixed up the bodies of the crash victims which they had thrown into coffins that were riveted shut and sent them to Poland. Since the families of the victims protested that they were never even allowed to see the bodies of their loved ones, the Polish government eventually agreed to exhumations. In one case (in September 2012), the family of the “Mother of Solidarity,” Anna Walentynowicz, was unable to recognize her. Even more disturbingly, in late October the Polish public learned that forensic experts working for the Polish prosecutor’s office discovered traces of TNT on the wreckage of the aircraft (which remains in Russia to this day due to Moscow’s refusal to return it). This eventually led to a recent request by the European Union to return the wreckage. On the other hand, in early December, the Obama administration turned down a petition to support an independent and international investigation of Smolensk. Since much of the evidence points in the direction of foul play, Smolensk has, after all, become a quite inconvenient issue. That, however, shouldn’t mean that the inquisitive should refrain from researching it.
Mr. Styrna concluded by pointing out that the Smolensk Plane Crash changed the geopolitical situation in the Intermarium. Warsaw abandoned Lech Kaczyński’s policy of rallying Central and Eastern European/post-Soviet nations around Poland. The states of the region fell in line to accommodate the Kremlin, which, under Putin, has been attempting to reintegrate the post-Soviet sphere. Now that Kaczyński is dead and Obama has shown disinterest in Central and Eastern Europe, there is little to stop the reintegration.
For the historical context and further details, please see Paweł Styrna’s articles on Smolensk on the website of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research (SFPPR).
Note: The views and hypotheses expressed by Mr. Styrna in his lecture are purely his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute of World Politics or the Kościuszko Chair.