WARSAW The West may be contemplating a thaw with Moscow, but Poland’s new conservative government could additional strain relations with the country’s former Soviet overlord by reopening an investigation into the death of President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in Russia in 2010.
An inquiry by the earlier government returned a verdict of pilot error, but the winner of Poland’s October election, the Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, says an onboard explosion could have brought on the crash.
Now in energy for the very first time given that the tragedy, the celebration wants a new inquiry and, possibly, aid from international courts and foreign secret services, in examining its theory.
Although PiS never definitively accused Russia of orchestrating the president’s death, it has said the Kremlin benefited from the crash, which also killed the central bank chief, best army brass and many lawmakers, triggering a period of political turmoil.
PiS officials have also accused Moscow of prolonging its investigation, and withholding proof, such as the black boxes and the plane’s wreckage. Russia says these can not be returned until its criminal probe is concluded.
“One could almost feel that the Russians have anything on their conscience, following all,” Poland’s new Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told the Nasz Dziennik daily.
He has also mentioned he cannot rule out the possibility that the president was assassinated.
“Either they resolve this case amicably, or it will be necessary to hand it over to international tribunals, and challenge the investigation in the European Court of Human Rights,” Waszczykowski stated, adding Poland would also ask its NATO allies for support.
Difficult Moscow in international courts, as effectively as relaunching the inquiry, with Russia as the prime – if not openly named – suspect, is probably to damage relations among Poland and its old foe, already fragile over the Ukraine crisis.
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not right away respond to a request for comment.
Reopening the case could also test Poland’s ties with its NATO allies, who may shy away from controversy as some attempt to re-engage with Moscow to fight Islamic State and forge a peace deal in Syria.
Domestically, the move may be popular amongst Poland’s conservative electorate, deeply distrustful of Russia, but it will also reopen memories of a case whose handling by the government aroused wide disagreements amongst Poles.
The country’s worst such disaster since Planet War Two, the crash took place near Smolensk, western Russia, close to the spot exactly where Stalin’s secret police shot some of the 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals it executed in 1940. For decades, Moscow blamed Nazi Germany for the mass executions.
The massacre is an enduring symbol for Poland of its suffering at Soviet hands, and president Lech Kaczynski had been flying in to commemorate it.
For Jaroslaw, whose robust partnership with his twin brother was a defining aspect of their political ascent collectively, winning energy might be an chance to settle a private score, critics say.
He has long accused then prime minister Donald Tusk, who is now head of the European Council of heads of EU states, of being indirectly accountable for the crash, triggered, in his view, at least partially by the government’s negligence.
An investigation by Tusk’s government developed no evidence of that.
Already, the PiS selection for defense minister – Antoni Macierewicz – suggests that Smolensk will be higher on the agenda.
Macierewicz, who in opposition opened his personal unofficial investigation into the crash, has been the leading proponent of theories that one thing much more sinister than pilot error was behind the crash.
“The government headed by (Russia’s then prime minister Vladimir) Putin is fully responsible for this tragedy,” he told the European Parliament in March.
He has told army cadets that discovering the truth about the crash is the greatest challenge facing the Polish army.
For the duration of his investigation, Macierewicz relied on proof offered by authorities who employed props such as crushed drinks cans and burst sausages to clarify that the Russian-made aircraft had exploded in mid-air just before crashing.
The experts had not visited the crash site, and utilised photographs from the net. Their meetings sometimes verged on the farcical, with proceedings at one particular point interrupted by a hoax Skype get in touch with claiming to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this month, Polish President Andrzej Duda expressed support for Macierewicz’s professionals, saying the official conclusions of Polish and Russian inquiries did not “hold up” when confronted with evidence.
The new government has now shut down the official site devoted to the state investigation, which refuted claims that the plane was brought down by an explosion.
Political analysts say reopening the investigation, and Macierewicz’s anti-Russian rhetoric, largely serve domestic political goals, as they are most likely to appeal to core voters.
Opinion polls show only a single in five Poles believes the lead to of the crash has been properly explained. Nearly a third accept to some degree the suggestion that the president may possibly have been assassinated.
Speaking shortly right after the October election, Kaczynski told supporters gathered to commemorate his brother’s death that more would be carried out.
“I’m convinced that the circumstances for reaching the truth have now been established.”
In spite of the foreign minister’s announcements, it was not immediately clear whether or not the government would really ask Poland’s allies for assist in investigating the crash. Shortly right after the election, PiS leader Kaczynski mentioned a proper Polish inquiry would suffice.
A senior source close to the party leadership stated the new government realized that, at a time when some Western countries want to rebuild ties with Moscow, prioritizing the case could complicate Poland’s relations with its allies.
Poland was for that reason likely to stick to well-established techniques of difficult Moscow, such as international tribunal lawsuits over the withholding of proof, technically Polish property, the supply said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But Poland was most likely to insist that its Western intelligence partners, who want Warsaw to join the fight against Islamic extremists, reciprocate by handing over any intelligence that may be relevant to the crash, he added.
(Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak editing by Justyna Pawlak and Giles Elgood)
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