Smolensk

Poland intends to charge two Russian air traffic controllers in the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk that killed the country’s president and many high-ranking Polish officials (96 people were on board).

Unfortunately, the English press has few details on the charges or the next steps Poland intends to take. According to Novaya Gazeta [Rus], one dispatcher has been charged with “creating a dangerous situation in air traffic”, and the other has been charged with negligence.

The Polish Prosecutor’s Office is hoping to question witnesses based on the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.

The military prosecutors approved the indictment based on a 5-year-long investigation into the causes of the tragedy.

The Polish government has admitted some culpability in the crash, but has previously alleged that the air traffic controllers were at least negligent in carrying out their duties. A 2011 report from the Polish side stated that one air traffic controller was inexperienced:

“This was only the second flight he had handled in a year and he gave the crew erroneous instructions.”

The Polish side also previously alleged that the air traffic control tower had given the pilots incorrect coordinates.

The two governments had been cooperating on the investigation, with the Russian side saying that they would deliver some of the plane wreckage early last year. However, it is unclear if that ever happened.

An investigation had been reopened in August 2014 on a Warsaw court’s order.

With tensions increasing over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the broader region, it seems likely that this is more about PR than anything else at the moment. It is unlikely that Russia will cooperate or allow its citizens to be questioned.

There have been some wild (and some not so wild) conspiracy theories about what really happened, but as with previous accidents, Russia did itself no favors, whether because of unprofessionalism or something more sinister remains a mystery.

The subject is not getting much play in the Russian media either, though one Russian blogger shared the article in Novaya Gazeta, and asked if it was possible that Putin was involved.  He got the response: “In 2010 when it happened, it seemed unlikely. But now I think… anything is possible.”

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