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Memorial is wide-ranging and simultaneous scrupulous historical research of topics that were until recently inaccessible to Russian scholars: the GULag, the history of the security organizations VChK (the Cheka)-OGPU-NKVD-MGB-KGB, statistics on political repression in the Soviet Union, and dissidents' resistance during the Khrushchev-Brezhnev era. Memorial is a number of international research projects, in which internationally recognized research centers in the humanities acts as partners. It is a support program for young researchers throughout Russia. It is the struggle for free access to historical information, to the past, which was hidden from us for so long.





by Eugene Poteat

"Only a fool will make his doctor his heir"
 – Russian Proverb

Editor's note: On April 10, 2010 an airplane carrying the entire top echelon of the Polish government crashed in Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 onboard. Russia claimed the crash was due to pilot error attempting the landing in bad weather, along with the usual regrets for the tragedy. Russians quickly cleared the crash site, removed and locked all bodies in sealed caskets, and confiscated the planes black boxes. The Mercury, shortly after the crash, published an article by Gene Poteat suggesting the crash was no accident, but more likely a Russian arranged crash to decapitate the pro-NATO Polish government. The Mercury placed the article on its website, spreading it worldwide via the internet. The article was picked up, translated and published in Poland, where it created outcries for an official investigation. These on-going investigations, carried out by highly qualified Polish and Western experts, are now concluding the crash was indeed not an accident. Poteat’s latest article, below, brings us up-to-date on the emerging revelations from these investigations.

- Charles Waring, Editor, Charleston Mercury

Shortly after the crash, Russia produced an official report, known as the MAK [Interstate Aviation Committe] Report, declaring pilot error the cause of the crash: a consequence of attempting to land in bad weather, with onboard officials pressuring the pilot to land in spite of the weather. The direct cause of the crash, according to the report, was the airplane striking a birch tree, severing the left wing, causing the plane to crash into the ground short of the runway.

Vladimir Putin. PHOTO by AP.  

Accidents happen. But Russia’s actions immediately after the crash - unusually swift and unprecedented - reflected actions akin to a criminal cleaning up the crime scene, not a concerned nation seeking answers. Instead, they quickly bulldozed the crash site, confiscated the airplane's black boxes, and prevented examination by others. The control tower operator, who had been in contact with the airplane during the approach, quickly disappeared. The recovered bodies were sealed in locked caskets, no viewings permitted. Even the birch tree, for some odd only-in-Russia reason, was dug up by the roots and removed. To the Russians: case closed.

Vladimir Putin. PHOTO by AP.

Poland’s Parliament and Senate established their own investigations, drawing on experts in Poland, the US, the EU, and Australia, as well as testimony of individuals who heard and saw the airplane seconds before the crash. The most shocking and trustworthy is the recording of one of the passengers’ screams before the fatal crash.
Polish investigators did have access to the airplane’s computer (but not the black boxes), which proved conclusively that the Russian MAK Report veered far from the facts: the airplane never was low enough to strike a birch tree; there was no pressure on the pilot to land; the pilot had initiated a go-around with full throttles, and as he was climbing out two onboard explosions tore the plane apart. American experts associated with NASA and the FAA used sophisticated analysis to show that striking a birch tree would cause only a small dent, not tear off a wing. Australian experts’ examination of the computer and photos of the debris field concluded the plane was blown apart by two explosions, one inside the left wing and a second inside the airplane, causing total destruction.

But why would Russia wish to sabotage the plane? It was merely a ceremonial visit by the Polish elite to commemorate and mourn the 1940 murder of 22,000 Polish officers and other officials in the Katyn Forest, Russia, by the NKVD – the Soviet secret police.  These officers were defenseless prisoners of war (POW), slaughtered in violation of the Geneva Convention.  Despite blaming Germany for the massacre, Russia hurriedly acknowledged the event in 1989, and then swept the atrocity out of the history books much the way they airbrush disfavored officials out of photos. The April 2010 Smolensk trip would have reminded the world that the Russians had murdered thousands, and lied about it for decades. It became a problem for the Russians on how to make the planned Smolensk ceremony disappear…quickly.

An easy way to avoid the dreaded ceremony arrived. The delegation of top Polish officials would be arriving, en masse, on a single airplane. An airplane serviced and ‘prepared’ in Russia. If the crash was made to appear an accident, Russia saves face, and there is no mention of that Stalin-era Katyn mess. Problem solved. The operation, instead, was handled with heavy, flat-footed imprecision, making denial nearly impossible. Impossible – but not for Russians.

Though American jurisprudence does not allow prior bad acts to influence the determination of guilt for each and every new act - International incidents like this highly suspect airplane crash must be held to higher standards. If it was indeed an accident, as Russia claims, the airplane’s black box would have supported them. Instead, they engaged in smokescreens and disappearances to prevent further examination.

While a jury would be unable to convict without hard evidence or credible witnesses, the court of public opinion has no trouble seeing things as they are. But for those who have lost their leaders, their loved ones, their colleagues, this is little comfort. All those outcries carry little power to bring to justice those in Russia responsible for this manufactured accident.

As for Poland, they will have to swallow this bitter experience, and use it to never forget, and forever alter their behavior and level of trust. When your country is permeated with enemies, as Poland is, every move must be made skillfully to avoid falling into another trap concocted by conniving cohorts or colleagues. This will happen again until Poland is fully free of Russian hegemony. This ‘accident’ enabled Putin to eliminate our pro-NATO allies in Poland and replace them with pro-Russian ones, proving the Russian adage: Make yourself into a sheep, and you will meet a wolf nearby. And so they did. What is at stake for them, and us, is to always remember that little has changed when one is dealing with Russians, and their well-known oft-used expression more apt than ever: It was no accident, Comrade!  

Written By Eugene Poteat

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Mercury, and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

Recommended Further Reading:

Polish President's Plane Crash in Russia Two Years Later: "The Russians had the means, motive, and opportunity" to assassinate the staunchly pro-Western president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski. An interview with Eugene Poteat, retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Senior Scientific Intelligence Officer.

"Russian Image Management" Making Unpleasant Historical Truths About Poland Disappear: The KGB’s latest intelligence coup, and NATO’s latest intelligence disaster By Eugene Poteat

Polish Plane Crash "Investigation" & Disinformation Campaign

Inconsistencies in the official Polish and Russian Reports Analyzed by Independent Experts - Dr. Kazimierz Nowaczyk, PhD Presentation




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