Russia refuses to hand plane wreckage to Poland

A man holds a portrait of Lech and Maria Kaczynski on the fifth anniversary of the crash. Picture: AFP
A man holds a portrait of Lech and Maria Kaczynski on the fifth anniversary of the crash. Picture: AFP
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Russia has refused to hand over to Poland the wreckage of a Polish government airliner five years after it crashed in western Russia killing Poland’s president, Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and dozens of the country’s political, military and civil elite.

All 96 people on board died when the plane crashed just 
before reaching Smolensk airport on 10 April, 2010, in what is considered as the greatest ­tragedy to strike Poland since the end of the Second World War and a disaster that still casts a shadow over troubled Polish-Russian relations.

Along with the president, the crash claimed the lives of the heads of the country’s army, navy and air force, and the head of the national bank.

A Russian committee investigating the causes of the crash has rebuffed repeated Polish requests for the remnants of the Tupolev Tu-154M to be handed over, claiming Poland has failed to respond to requests for legal assistance.

“I consider co-operation with the Polish authorities over the course of the investigation as constructive and fruitful,” said General Vladimir Markin, the committee’s head.

“Nevertheless there remain requests from the Russian side that have not been met by our Polish colleagues, which makes it impossible to make the final decisions in this case.

“The wreck of the plane is actual evidence and therefore its transfer will only be considered after the completion of the investigation,” he continued, adding “no country in the world would hand over physical evidence while an investigation is in process”.

Although both an initial Russian investigation and an official Polish inquiry both concluded the tragedy was an accident, Russia’s determination to maintain possession of the wreck has fuelled conspiracy theories in Poland that Moscow may have had a hand in the disaster.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the dead president’s twin brother and the leader of Poland’s main opposition party, has alleged his brother was assassinated and that both the Polish and Russian governments were involved.

Yesterday, a Polish parliamentary committee published a report claiming the aircraft was brought down by bomb blasts as it was coming into land at Smolensk. The committee’s chairman Antoni Macierewicz, a party colleague of the late president who has long espoused the assassination theory, pointed the finger of blame at Russia. He argued the killing of Mr Kaczynski, a political hawk when it came to Russia, removed an obstacle to Russian expansion in western Europe.

Mr Macierewicz added that “the evidence is clear that no one other than the president of the Russian Federation benefited more from the death of the president of Poland and the elite that upheld the country’s independence”.

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