'Unacceptable' and 'without foundation': Poland rejects Russian air crash report

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Poland's first couple and other senior officials were among the 96 killed when their aircraft went down near Smolensk, Russia.
Image: Bartosz Staszewski.

Poland has rejected a Russian investigative report into the air crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński earlier this year. Poland's first couple and other senior officials were among the 96 killed when their aircraft went down near Smolensk, Russia. On Friday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called an unreleased draft he has seen "unacceptable" and its conclusions "without foundation".

Tusk's televised remarks to the press did not reveal what the report contains, but claimed it to be in breach of the Chicago Convention, an international regulatory document on air travel. "From the Polish point of view, the draft report from the Russian side as it has been sent is without question unacceptable. This negligence and mistakes or lack of positive reaction to what Poland has been asking for, all these things allow us to say that some of the report's conclusions are without foundation," he said.

Edmund Klich, who heads the Polish air accident investigatory body, has seen the report and blamed elements in both Russia and Poland. Klich said the Polish military pilots had been insufficiently trained and ignored safety, and that Russian air traffic controllers should have diverted the aircraft elsewhere. Visibility had deteriorated at Smolensk's airport prior to the crash, but the Tupolev Tu-154's pilots were determined to get the President through the fog so he could attend a ceremony commemorating the Katyn massacre. Stalin had ordered Polish prisoners there to be killed during the Second World War.

"I believe the Polish side bears more responsibility," Klich commented, "but of course the Russians had their shortcomings." He has previously criticised Russia's failure to provide air traffic control transcripts from the disaster, which left no survivors. Also on Friday, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman told Ekho Moskvy Russia is ready to answer Polish questions. He reiterated a need to co-operate and added it is "important not to politicize the situation." Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also repeated calls for co-operation on a visit to Poland last week.

The comments follow the delivery of the draft to Poland by the Interstate Aviation Committee last month following complaints Russia should speed up the investigation. The crash has caused political controversy in Poland, with the newly-elected President and first lady belonging to Civic Platform, who were Kaczyński's opposition.

The Wall Street Journal suggests Tusk's remarks may damage improving relations between the countries. Conservative elements within Poland already doubted the veracity of improved relations and have formed conspiracy theories around the crash, citing a perception the Polish government will blindly accept whatever Russian investigators say.

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