A daily bulletin of news & opinion

3 August 2011

Nearly 16 months after the plane crash in western Russia that killed Polish president Lech Kaczyński, his wife, eight crew members and 86 political and military officials, a recently published report into the 10 April accident has stirred the country’s already tense political scene.

A report was published last Friday by a government-run commission led by Poland’s interior and administration minister, Jerzy Miller. Following the publication, defence minister Bogdan Klich resigned, despite Prime Minister Donald Tusk insisting Klich was not responsible for the crash. The report stated the cause of the accident was the aircraft’s descent below the minimum height at excessive speed in gloomy weather. “This made [the plane] collide with a [tree] which ripped off its left wing,” the report stated.

Despite that, Klich resigned, stating the report was very critical of the Polish Air Force command and admitting that he was not capable of overhauling the institution.

Indeed, the commission lodged some 163 criticisms of the flight, ranging from the training of the Tu-154M plane’s crew to the technical condition of the aircraft. It was also critical of the airport in Smolensk, which was not prepared to handle flights that day, according to the report.

“The pilots were not properly trained for such important missions, and the government planes should have been replaced by new ones long ago,” says retired Colonel Janusz Grochowski, an independent defence analyst.

“It is not only the military procedures that failed, but also the state institutions. Providing adequate training for military pilots is both a costly and long-term effort. Without proper wages for the pilots and purchases of new training equipment and aircraft, you shouldn’t expect miracles,” he says.

The report has left a quake of political unease in its wake. As the right-wing opposition Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) party prepares for the 9 October parliamentary elections, its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, who is the dead president’s twin brother, blames Tusk for trusting the Russians with the investigation in the aftermath of the accident (they published their own report into the crash in January). Kaczyński says that if his party wins the vote, he will continue the investigation on his own, suggesting Tusk “is not defending the Polish interest and honour on the international scene”.

Despite his resignation, Klich also plans to run for the Senate as a candidate of the ruling centre-right Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform).

“During his term, Klich managed to end conscription and transform the Polish army into a fully professional force. He wanted to modernise the army, but his mistake was to put too much faith in those military officials who tried to convince him that everything was in order,” says Grochowski. “As a result, he quickly became disconnected from reality.”


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