SMOLENSK: AN INCONVENIENT TRAGEDY
Three years following the suspicious Smolensk Plane Crash new developments and evidence continue to surface.
By PAWEL PIOTR STYRNA, SFPPR NEWS & ANALYSIS
The Smolensk Plane Crash claimed the lives of the President of Poland, his wife, and 94 other members of the country’s patriotic and pro-American political and military elite.
The Smolensk Plane Crash claimed the lives of the President of Poland, his wife, and 94 other members of the country’s patriotic and pro-American political and military elite.
Three years have passed since the suspicious Smolensk Plane Crash of April 10, 2010. During this time, new developments in the case occurred and evidence continued to surface. Most disturbingly, these findings have anything but dispelled doubts about the veracity of the official, FSB/KGB-manufactured Moscow-Warsaw “pilot error” line. Instead, they have consistently pointed in the direction of foul play. Since the mainstream media and public opinion in the West do not appear to have been following these developments or registered the geopolitical significance of Smolensk, it seems appropriate to elaborate on some of the more recent findings. For brevity’s sake, this article will mention only developments which occurred after mid-2012, for I have focused on the background and previous discoveries in two SFPPR News & Analyses articles.
Cyber attacks on the Polish Foreign Ministry
To begin with, we have learned that two cyber attacks - one on April 6, 2010, and another on April 10, i.e. the very day of the crash - temporarily crippled the Polish Foreign Ministry. Its employees thus had no access to servers with secret information, not to mention email or even telephones. On the day of the tragedy, the cyber attack even prevented the Foreign Ministry from receiving a list of passengers via email. This was discussed, in a June 2012 interview, by retired CIA new technologies and aviation expert, S. Eugene Poteat, who argued that it was quite likely that the culprits were hackers working for the post-Soviet regime in Moscow. After all, Russian cyber attacks had also paralyzed Estonia and Georgia (before the August 2008 invasion). Poteat, a professor at the DC-based Institute of World Politics, conducted the initial investigation of the crash that questions Russia’s claim the crash was a case of mere pilot error, leading others around the world to take a second look.
Smolensk victims buried in wrong graves
During the fall of 2012, the bodies of several of the crash victims were exhumed by the Polish Military Prosecutor’s Office in charge of the Smolensk case. This was done—more than two years following the crash—in response to public pressure arising from serious discrepancies stemming from Russian autopsy reports, on the one hand, and Polish family members’ descriptions of their loved ones’ bodies, on the other hand.
DNA testing confirmed that the body of the “Mother of Solidarity,” Anna Walentynowicz, had been swapped with that of another Smolensk victim, Teresa Walewska-Przyjałowska, the leader of the “Golgotha of the East” Foundation, which focused on commemorating the genocide of the Polish elite by the Soviets at Katyn in 1940. Further, Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last President-in-Exile (1989-1990), who had been buried at the Temple of Divine Providence following the crash, was also exhumed. It turned out that another body was laid to rest in the coffin supposedly containing his remains. The bodies of two Polish priests were also buried in wrongly marked coffins, but in this case the Russians actually admitted to making a mistake. In other cases, the Polish Military Prosecutor’s Office preferred to blame the families of the victims for allegedly misidentifying the remains during the rather careless post-Soviet autopsies in Moscow.
Yet, this shameful attempt to “pass the buck” and “cast blame on others” ignores the fact, according to legal experts, the prosecutor’s office should have conducted its own autopsies to verify the Russian ones. The failure to do so demonstrates the MPO chose to tow the Warsaw government’s line of appeasing Moscow at any price at the expense of its obligations towards Poland and her citizens.
As far as the Russians are concerned, the most charitable explanation for mixing up the bodies of Smolensk victims may be post-Soviet incompetence. Such an explanation may be too simple, however. The apparent “mistakes” may be a final, posthumous effort to humiliate individuals considered particularly anti-Soviet and anti-Putin. That would certainly be consistent with the Kremlin’s general handling of the Smolensk case from the very outset, which exhibits all the features of the typically Muscovite and Soviet contempt for weaker parties, the Poles in particular. Moscow, as the stronger and more assertive partner, may do as it wishes and the “uppity” Poles—who had to be thrust back into their place—must accept it.
Traces of TNT explosives on the Smolensk wreckage – a post-KGB signature?
Concurrently, in September-October of last year, traces of TNT and nitroglycerine were found on the wreckage of the Polish Tupolev by forensic experts combing the crash site on behalf of the Polish Military Prosecutor’s Office. The head of the Warsaw District of the MPO, Col. Ireneusz Szeląg, attempted to suppress this information, which was eventually revealed by investigative journalist Cezary Gmyz in his now famous article of October 30, 2012, in the respected newspaper of record, Rzeczpospolita [The Republic]. The fallout resulted in the firing of not only Gmyz, but also two other journalists and even the editor-in-chief of the daily within a week after the publication of the piece.
In a most equivocal manner, the Warsaw District MPO denied that traces of TNT and nitroglycerine had been found on the wreck, while at the same time admitting the presence of “ionized particles” which could, but need not be, explosives. Furthermore, the prosecutors continued, laboratory testing would be required to definitely prove the presence of explosive materials. The “catch” is, however, that such laboratory tests could easily consume six months or so. Antoni Macierewicz, the head of an independent parliamentary commission to investigate Smolensk, does not hide his frustration with what he views as deception: “During the Wednesday hearings of the Parliamentary Justice Committee [in December 2012] the military prosecutors confirmed several times that the instruments used to test the wreckage of the Tupolev detected the presence of TNT. They thereby admitted that they lied! After all, in October they announced that they detected no such thing.”
It should be noted that in early April Poland’s Prosecutor General, Andrzej Seremet, extended the six-month period for laboratory testing to rule out the presence of TNT until summer (most likely July). Simultaneously, Seremet revealed his agenda, i.e. the objective of the tests is to provide a basis to refute the “assassination theory,” as opposed to objectively seeking the truth.
Furthermore, it has been reported that a sample from the seat belt of Smolensk victim Ewa Bąkowska—which had been tested at a university in the United States upon the request of her cousin—indeed tested positive for TNT.
In spite of having lost his job over the TNT issue, Cezary Gmyz stuck to his guns. He pointed out that the scanners used to test for explosives in Smolensk represent a highly reliable cutting-edge technology used, for example, by Israeli security forces at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. When asked in a public meeting whether the presence of TNT might have been purely coincidental, Gmyz replied: “There was so much of it, that the instruments went crazy. One device simply stopped working because the scale had been exceeded.” The investigative journalist also pointed out that while TNT may be a quite simple substance, it would certainly reflect the unsophisticated style of the post-KGB, adding that TNT had been used by the FSB to blow up residential buildings filled with Russian citizens in Ryazan as a pretext to launch a second war in Chechnya. “Thus, it [the TNT] may simply be their signature.”
Parenthetically, it should be noted following the discovery of TNT during the fall, the Russians refused to allow Polish diplomats to even view the still unreconstructed Smolensk wreckage in early March of this year.
While the revelation of the presence of explosives may be highly suspicious—especially in light of the two “jolts” (i.e. likely blasts) detected by the experts working for the Macierewicz Committee—it is important to keep in mind the role of the “Smolensk card” in Moscow’s relations with Warsaw and in Russia’s internal politics as well. As one theory has it: For Vladimir Putin, the threat to “leak” information demonstrating the incompetence and pusillanimity of the current government in Warsaw serves to blackmail Donald Tusk, whom the Russian president appears to view as a weak and submissive politician. Conversely, it has been suggested that anti-Putin forces in Russia itself, including the post-Soviet GRU (military counterintelligence), which Putin has neglected, are striving to utilize Smolensk to oust the KGB colonel.
Cutting down the “armored birch”
In addition, in November of 2012, the Polish prosecutors cut down the “armored” birch tree that allegedly snapped off the tip of the Tupolev’s left wing, thereby (according to the official story) causing the aircraft to flip over. The prosecutor’s office claimed that it was gathering samples for testing. According to Antoni Macierewicz, this constitutes destruction of evidence since “the key here is not the samples collected, but the place in which the Tupolev allegedly struck [the tree], the tree’s position in relation to the trajectory of the flight, as well as the angle at which shrapnel was lodged in the tree in relation to the ground.”
Thus, the penchant to eradicate Smolensk evidence is not limited to the post-Soviets. The pro-government, liberal/post-communist camp in Poland has shown that it is more than willing to destroy vital evidence to make the pesky crash “go way.” For instance, the head of the Federation of Katyn Families, Izabella Sariusz-Skąpska (the daughter of the organization’s former president and Smolensk victim, Andrzej Sariusz-Skąpski, who riled many of the federation’s members by claiming that the Katyn Massacre was not a genocide), shocked many by her statement that the Smolensk wreckage should be melted down.
Smolensk Commission chairman deprived of immunity
Following the discovery of TNT on the wreckage, Antoni Macierwicz was deprived of his parliamentary immunity in late November by the liberal/post-communist majority in the Polish Parliament. While the official cause for this was a libel suit lodged against Macierewicz by a post-communist lobbyist and kleptocrat, it is probable these forces wished to punish him for heading a parliamentary body that has become an increasingly worrisome thorn in their side.
The Obama administration refuses to support international investigation
In spite of the mounting evidence in favor of foul play, which Team Obama must have been aware of, the current administration chose to ignore it. A case in point was the online petition requesting U.S. support of an independent international investigation of Smolensk. Although the document gathered over 31,000 signatures well before the presidential election, the Obama administration waited until December 7, 2012, to announce its refusal. Having taken the path of least resistance, Team Obama advised the signatories of the petition to read the FSB/KGB-generated Russian MAK Report and its more nuanced Polish version, the Miller Report. The administration was apparently unwilling to allow Smolensk to jeopardize the pet project that “reset” had become, in spite of its failure. No doubt the liberals running Washington are quite relieved that the liberals governing Warsaw are not pushing them to support an independent and international investigation, and vice versa.
The role of the EU
On the other hand, according to Antoni Macierewicz’s statement at the European Parliament, representatives of EU investigative bodies offered Poland assistance three days following the crash. He also said the most appropriate European body to help the investigation would be the European Aviation Safety Agency. Macierewicz was attacked by Jacek Protasiewicz (Civic Platform Party), the Deputy Speaker of the European Parliament, who claimed the Russians refused any third party involvement in the Smolensk investigation. However, a lack of transparency is only to be expected from Moscow, and the Tusk government—in all of its submissiveness and defeatism—did not even try to “internationalize” the Smolensk Crash as a means of putting pressure on the Kremlin.
Also, in January of this year, the European Union’s Commission for EU-Russian Parliamentary Cooperation appealed to Moscow to end the Smolensk investigation and return the wreckage. The initiators of the appeal were Polish MEPs. While this is a positive step, it must be kept in mind that the EU has no common defense or foreign policy. The countries that have the most influence on EU policies, however, are the powers most friendly to Russia, i.e. Germany and France.
Post-communist media: agent of deception
Since the very day of the crash, the Russians have disseminated the claim Polish President Lech Kaczyński and an allegedly intoxicated Air Force General, Andrzej Błasik, pressured the two Polish pilots to land. Liberal and post-communist circles in Poland immediately seized upon this FSB-engineered myth. For instance, as we have learned, a reporter for the TVN24 television station in Poland, Joanna Komolka (in a program aired on July 14, 2010), misrepresented the words uttered by the pilots in the black box transcript. According to Komolka, the words were: “If we don’t land, they’ll kill us.” In reality, the conversation between the two aviators was: “What if we don’t land? Then we’ll go around.” The reporter continued to work for TVN24 for two more years, until October 2012. Her termination does not appear to be related to her blatantly deceptive manipulation of the exchange between the fallen pilots. She currently works as the PR representative for Poland’s finest children’s hospital.
Rewards for negligence and worse
Many individuals in the current Polish government who utterly failed to ensure the delegation’s security and wellbeing on April 10, 2010 have actually been promoted or otherwise rewarded by Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his cabinet. For example, the head of Poland’s equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service, Gen. Marian Janicki, was promoted to the rank of Divisional General from Brigadier General.
One of the main individuals to “drop the ball” on Smolensk was, however, Tomasz Arabski, a close associate of Tusk. As the head of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery, Arabski was legally responsible for arranging and coordinating the necessary transportation for VIPs, including President Kaczyński. What is even more disconcerting is that Mr. Arabski—who worked hard with the post-Soviets to split the two Polish visits to Katyn—conducted a secret, two-hour conversation (without the presence of any Polish Foreign Ministry representatives or even the translator, whom he asked to leave the room) in a Moscow restaurant with one of Vladimir Putin’s trusted men on March 17, 2010 (his boss, Donald Tusk, himself spoke to Putin in secret tête-à-tête chat on the pier in Sopot, Poland, on September 1, 2009). In spite of Arabski’s failure to perform his job and his murky dealings with the Russians, he was rewarded by Donald Tusk with an ambassadorship to sunny Spain.
A sensational Russian news agency clip slips the censors
It has also been revealed that on the day of the crash the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, which is geared towards an international audience, aired a clip which, in effect, denied the official Moscow-Warsaw version. The short, English-language clip featured a simulation which showed the possibility of an explosion and mentioned nothing about the infamous “armored birch” tree. Further, interviewed Russian eyewitnesses, who are generally used to the sound of incoming aircraft, stated that the Polish Tupolev emitted loud and strange noises. They also admitted that the fog was nowhere near as dense as the official propaganda mills later claimed.
Tusk absent on third anniversary of Smolensk
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Donald Tusk was out of the country on the third anniversary of the national tragedy; he preferred to visit Nigeria. Although Tusk’s trip was ostensibly motivated by a desire to boost mutual trade ties, it is also a fact that the post-communist oligarch Jan Kulczyk holds a major stake in Nigeria’s oil extraction industry. The fact that Tusk chose the third anniversary of Smolensk to visit this faraway country seems to show how much he wishes to avoid this politically incorrect topic.
The Macierewicz Commission publishes its three-year-mark report
On the third anniversary of the air disaster, the Marcierewicz Commission published a 130-page Smolensk Report: The Current State of the Research [Raport smoleński: Stan badań]. The document maintained its previous “two explosions” hypothesis, and discussed the negligence of Warsaw officials and the role of Russian intelligence—which was aided and abetted by the Tusk government—in the rigged bid for repairs to the two Polish Tupolevs, which ultimately took place in December 2009 in Russia. The report is so far only available in Polish. The Macierewicz Commission submitted a request to have the Smolensk Report published and printed by the publishing house of the Polish parliament to make it available to the public for free. The request was denied, however, by the current Speaker of the Polish Parliament (and former Health Minister), Ewa Kopacz, the very same politician who lied that the crash site soil where traces of human remains had been found had been aggressively combed, and that Polish representatives were present during the botched Russian autopsies after the crash. The Commission was also unable to post the report on its website, which had been previously attacked by hackers. Thus, it had to be printed, made available for 30 Polish Złotys (approx. $10) per copy through the online bookstore of Gazeta Polska. Quite self-servingly, the Commission and its chairman were quickly accused by Kopacz of attempting to profit from the report’s publication, while Kopacz had refused to have it published. Ultimately, the Smolensk Report has become available for free on the website of the Law and Justice Party.
Russia posthumously charges the Polish pilots
On April 15, 2013—only several days following the third anniversary of the tragedy—the post-Soviet Putinist regime slapped Poland in the face once again. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has chosen to blame the victims and announced that it is preparing to charge the fallen Polish pilots for “violating the safety of air traffic” resulting in “the death of two or more persons” (Article 263 of the Russian Penal Code). This insult aptly demonstrates that the Polish government’s reluctance to assert Warsaw’s interests in the Smolensk case, and its drive to avoid offending Russia at any price, can only engender more contempt. The Chekists do not respect weakness and submissiveness.
* About the Auhor: Paweł Styrna has an MA in modern European history from the University of Illinois, and is currently working on an MA in international affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, where he is a research assistant to the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Mr. Styrna is also a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.
Recommended Further Reading: "Russian Image Management" by S. Eugene Poteat, LLD, retired Senior Scientific Intelligence Officer, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA