The Cable

Poland Targets Russian Air Traffic Controllers Over Smolensk Plane Crash

Trump has ‘wiretaps,’ Kaczynski has conspiracy theories about plane crashes.


On Monday, Polish prosecutors announced they would be pressing charges against two Russian air traffic controllers for their alleged role in a plane crash — and not just any plane crash.

The 2010 crash in Smolensk killed over 90 people, among them many top Polish officials — including then-President Lech Kaczynski. His twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is today the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party. Though he does not hold elected office, he is considered by many to be the power behind the Polish throne. And he still contends that the crash was no accident. And so state prosecutors are bringing charges against two Russian air traffic controllers.

“An analysis of the evidence … has allowed prosecutors to formulate new charges against air traffic controllers, citizens of the Russian Federation,” Marek Pasionek, Polish deputy prosecutor general, told reporters on Monday.

The air traffic controllers are not the only ones in Warsaw’s crosshairs. An investigation by the previous government determined the crash was an accident — the result of a pilot error, to which the air traffic controllers may have unwittingly contributed. And so, last month, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz asked prosecutors to investigate possible negligence on the part of the previous government’s prime minister, who is none other than Donald Tusk, the recently re-elected president of the European Council and permanent bete-noir for the Law and Justice crowd (who tried to stop his re-election).

Macierewicz told reporters that he suspected Tusk had also committed a crime. “Prime Minister Donald Tusk made an illegal deal with [Russian president] Vladimir Putin to harm Poland, and it should be a matter of criminal liability,” he said. Jaroslaw Kaczynski also believes Tusk was “morally responsible” for the crash. Animosity over the crash makes Poland, uniquely among Visegrad countries in Central Eastern Europe, allergic to closer relations with Russia, and still very much smarting over the crash — the governing party marks it each month with a ceremony.

Russia, for its part, maintains that blame is entirely with the Poles, and refuses to return the wreckage of the plane, claiming that they are still working on their own investigation seven years later.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said of Poland’s latest actions that it was “certainly not possible to agree with such conclusions.”

Photo credit: WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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