Russia passes more evidence on Kaczynski plane crash to Poland

Moscow gave new documents to Warsaw on the investigation of the Polish presidential plane crash last April that killed President Lech Kaczynski, the first lady, and most of the country's political elite en route to memorial events in western Russia.

Wednesday’s document transfer ceremony was held at the Russian Prosecutor General’s office. Russia and Poland continue to unite their efforts to come to a common conclusion on what caused the tragic plane crash.

It is also significant that within the 14 volumes of materials handed over to the Polish investigation on Wednesday, fresh eyewitness accounts recorded as recently as January were included.

Russian investigators believe that the additional questions and requests posed by the Polish side after the official version of the catastrophe was presented now have found their way into these 14 volumes. Poland has repeatedly called for more evidence to be handed over, saying it had been unable to conclude its own independent probe due to insufficient evidence.

The Polish side had been expected to release the results of its own investigation on April 10, exactly one year after the crash took place, but now they are asking for a six month extension of the probe, meaning the results will be ready in October only.

The international Interstate Aviation Committee which includes experts from Russia, Poland, and the US delivered the results of its investigation on January 12. The Commission believes that pilot error was the most probable cause of the accident: they say the crew failed to respond in a timely fashion to calls from the ground to redirect plane to another airfield because of very bad weather conditions.

The crew also did not adequately respond to the early warnings of the plane’s safety systems. It was also established that the crew was put under very strong psychological pressure being ordered to land by high-ranking Polish officials who were present in the cockpit at the time of landing.

The plane’s black box flight recorders showed that the commander of Polish Air Force One was in the cockpit at the time when the plane hit a tree and crashed while landing.                          

The international community largely agreed with the results of Committee’s investigation but a large number of people within Poland say that questions still remain.

They say not enough has been done to investigate the actions of the airfield staff at Smolensk airport, and they could have done more to prevent the plane from trying to land.

They also say more should be done to look into the conditions of the airfield in Smolensk itself.

The most vocal opponent to the findings of the commission was and continues to be Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of the late Polish president and the leader of country’s largest opposition party.

The greater irony of all this is that the Tu-154 was bound for Smolensk from Warsaw that day to mark a new united stage in Russian-Polish relations. All on board were to attend a commemorative event to mark the Katyn massacre, in which thousands of Polish officers captured by the Red Army perished.

Key politicians from both Polish and Russian sides have been keen to stress throughout the investigation that politics must stay out of the investigation and the improvement in Russian-polish relations seen over the last year must continue to evolve.

On April 10 this year, commemorative events that mark the anniversary of the crash will be held in Smolensk and will be attended by both presidents Bronislaw Komarowski and Dmitry Medvedev.