Listen, I know how much fun and excitement the Russophobes had blaming Russia for everything to do with the crash of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s plane at Smolensk last April. For a few moments, it even appeared they might be able to celebrate Russia and Poland returning to a state of mutual mistrust and suspicion, as both sides of the argument fielded their armchair experts. Immediate promises of Russian cooperation and images of Prime Minister Putin steadying an obviously shaken Donald Tusk during a ceremony caused most of the Russophobes to subside back into bitter muttering and wistful discussions of tin-foil-hat conspiracies.
Most of them. Keeping the home fires burning with regular shovelfuls of ignorance and pointless fury, La Russophobe churns out, “Once Again, Russia Rapes Poland”.
I’m sure most readers are by now aware of this author’s preoccupation with wild exaggeration and outright invention, not to mention sloppy research. This is a serial fabricator who, if Prime Minister Putin were overheard to remark that he preferred his steak a little under-done, would lead with the headline, “Putin to Force Russians to Eat Raw Meat!!!”
Well, then, let’s take a look at this latest rape of Poland, and see if there’s anything to it. While we’re at it, let’s do a little review of the accident itself, and what might be motivating this latest tempest in a pisspot. First, the quoted reference itself – always a good place to start. According to La Russophobe, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk “moaned” that cooperation with Russia is worsening. The article doesn’t mention anything about moaning. If you look at his photograph, I suppose he might be moaning. He might just as easily be singing along to Eminem’s, “Slim Shady”, or trying to get a piece of pistachio out of his back teeth with his tongue.
Moaning aside, Mr. Tusk is indeed quoted as saying that “with the investigation entering its final phase, cooperation with Russia is worse now than it was at the start”. Gazeta Wyborcza further quotes lead investigator (and, apparently, psychic) Edmund Klich as saying, “Russia does not want to make the material available”. Oddly enough, Klich said earlier that, “the pilots ignored the plane’s automatic warnings and attempted an incredibly risky landing”.
Really? Gee, it looks like things were going so well at first. Well, before we go any further, let’s also note that not everyone feels the way Tusk and Klich do. For instance, Polish Interior Minister Jerzy Miller – Commisioner of the investigation and the authority to whom Klich reports – says he believes it to be “just a procedural delay”.
Well, why would Russia be delaying anything? Surely it’d be in everyone’s best interests to get this cleared up, so everyone could move on and Poland could begin the healing process? Likely it would be in everyone’s best interests to wrap it up, but I can think of at least one concern that might make Russia want to give the evidence a final once-over before sending it on. A clue is found in the original reference;
“The newspaper says the documents in question could either confirm or rule out any part that Russian air traffic controllers and their equipment may have played a role in the crash.”
Tortured grammar notwithstanding, surely there’s not still a remaining possibility that Russia might be blamed for this? I can see why Russia might be suspicious of others’ motives. But there’s too much already on record that substantiates the accident being caused by the Polish pilot’s persistent attempt to land, despite being “waved off” by the Russian controllers and directed to land at an alternative airfield, due to unsafe landing conditions…isn’t there?
Let’s look. Going back once again to the original reference, we see it is acknowledged that foggy weather is believed to have played a part in the crash, and that “investigators are looking into whether Mr. Kaczynski or someone else on board pressured the pilots to attempt a landing despite the bad conditions.” This reference reports that non-crew personnel were in the cockpit at the time of the crash, although the reason was unconfirmed at that point in the investigation and the investigators seem fairly sure it was not President Kaczynski. This item reports the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) identified at least one of these individuals as Polish Air Force Chief Andrzej Blasik. The BBC report, however, introduces information direct from the investigators: (1) all systems on the plane and at the airfield in Smolensk were working normally, and that the crew had been warned several times that the weather was too bad for them to land and they should divert to another airport; and (2) the captain apparently insisted on a trial descent, even though visibility was down to 200m. The report also offers for the first time that a Polish plane which had already landed (likely the one carrying Polish journalists) confirmed four minutes before the crash that visibility had dropped to 200 meters, and reveals information that the aircrew on board the crashed plane had been thrown together several days before the flight – and had not undergone simulator training as a team.
Sold? You probably think you are – but wait. Go back, and look at the date on the Moaning Donald Tusk report. August 2nd, 2010. But a BBC report dated May 19th delivered an analysis direct from the binational panel that said all the systems on the plane and at the airport were functioning normally. The day of the crash, authorities knew as evidenced in this report that President Kaczynski had been making an uninvited visit and that his plans were “hanging in the air until the last moment”. Polish journalist Jedrzej Bielecki of the daily Dziennik reported also as of that date that the aircraft’s captain had been advised by the Russian controllers to land at Minsk, 400 km away. In a report dated June 1st, the Krakow Post released a transcript in English of the flight’s final minutes as recorded on the “black box”, the cockpit voice recorder. The Russian and Polish transcripts had been available before that. The recorded information suggests that personnel on the Polish plane already on the ground may have encouraged the pilot to make the attempt to land despite unsafe visibility and an aborted approach just minutes before by an inbound Russian aircraft. The transcript clearly shows the pilot was well aware of the unsafe visibility, had been directed by ground controllers to divert to an alternate airfield and – incredibly – had shut off his automatic warning systems as they began to scream for him to pull up. Although it may already have been too late, this resulted in the only known crash of an aircraft equipped with the American-made TAWS (Terrain Avoidance Warning System) since its introduction in the late 90’s. All this information was known not later than the beginning of June, and a good deal of it within days of the crash – but the documents that the Polish government says it doesn’t have are supposedly the confirmation as to whether Russian controllers were partly to blame. Would you be a little suspicious? I would.
Well, let’s take a look at the issue of the plane itself, although investigators determined the day after the crash that there were no doubts as to its airworthiness. A Russian Tupolev TU-154, it had been in use for 20 years. Former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller was quoted as saying, “I once said that we will one day meet in a funeral procession, and that is when we will take the decision to replace the aircraft fleet”.
All right, let’s summarize. Polish President Lech Kaczinsky decided at the last minute to proceed uninvited to Smolensk, where there was no advance planning for his arrival for these reasons. Once in the vicinity, either the pilot or someone pressuring the pilot decided to base his decision-making on conversation with someone in the cockpit of the Polish plane already on the ground rather than instructions for the safety of all aboard issued by Russian ground control. Although the crew of the Polish plane on the ground agreed the visibility had deteriorated by half since they had successfully landed in a plane that did not have TAWS warning systems, and an approaching Russian plane had aborted its landing attempt and diverted, the pilot decided to attempt landing anyway. When the automatic system that had never failed to prevent crashing in the past (when terrain avoidance was the issue) sounded unambiguous warnings on the flight deck, he or another crew member turned it off.
And yet, “the documents in question could either confirm or rule out any part that Russian air traffic controllers and their equipment may have played a role in the crash.” The possibility that Russian equipment or ground-control procedures might have caused the crash is still being discussed.
Is there a Polish government figure who might benefit from consistently forcing suspicion back on to Russia every time evidence seems to have removed it? I’m glad you asked, because yes, there is. Russophobe-to-the-core-of-his-bones Radoslaw “Radek” Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister, onetime resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Executive Director of the New Atlantic Initiative and husband to the strident, research-challenged neoconservative Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum. Here’s my favourite Applebaum quote, delivered in her regular column just after the U.S. Army’s successful drive to Baghdad: “The war proved, as we all knew it would, that America no longer needs military allies”. Cocky? Oh, my, yes. Wrong? That too.
Russia “once again rapes Poland”? I’d submit that if anyone might be on the wrong end of non-consensual sex, it’s Russia.