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Russia Blames Crew in Air Crash That Killed Polish President

Brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw Kaczynski (r), speaks at a news conference in Warsaw, 12 Jan 2011
Brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw Kaczynski (r), speaks at a news conference in Warsaw, 12 Jan 2011

A Russian report on last year's plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others says crew members were pressured by high officials, and indirectly the head of state, to land in Smolensk, Russia despite bad weather. But the twin brother of the late president Jaroslaw Kaczynski has already condemned the report.

Russian aviation officials have concluded the Polish pilots' decision to land in bad weather caused the April 10 crash in western Russia.

The presidential plane crashed as it attempted to land in bad weather near the city of Smolensk, for a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of a World War II massacre of more than 20,000 captured Polish officers and other prisoners of war by Soviet police.

Investigators said Wednesday that the presence by late Polish President Lech Kaczynski aboard the Russian-made Tupolev 154 may have contributed to the disaster that killed him, his wife and 94 others.

Flight recorder audio played during the news conference suggests crew members feared President Lech Kaczynski would be angry if they aborted plans to land. One of the plane's crew members was heard saying: "He will get mad."

Tatiana Anodina, head of Russia's investigative Interstate Aviation Committee, also expressed concerns to reporters in Moscow that several high-ranking personnel were in the cabin before the plane came down, including the Foreign Ministry director of protocol and Polish Air Force Commander Andrzej Błasik.

She says the presence of the commander of the Polish air force in the cockpit put a huge pressure on the pilots and forced them into taking unnecessary high risks of landing in those bad weather conditions.

The report also claims General Blasik was under the influence of alcohol at the time.

But in Warsaw, the late President Kaczynski's twin brother and ex-prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, strongly condemned the report as making "a mockery of Poland."

He said that he was not fully convinced General Blasik had been drinking, but added that in any case there was no proof that the "small amount of alcohol" said to be in his blood would have contributed to the plane crash.

Kaczynski heads the right-leaning opposition Law and Justice Party and said it would urge the Polish parliament to reject the report, and he criticized the Polish prime minister's handling of the disaster investigation.

He explains there is a possibility for the Polish parliament to ask Moscow to include Polish experts in the investigation. But he says "the decision was made by [Prime Minister] Donald Tusk to hand over the investigation to the Russians" not to upset them.

Polish Prime Minister Tusk already called the draft findings of the Russian investigation unacceptable and riddled with errors.

Initially, Poles were struck by the level of public and official mourning in Russia following the tragedy.

Commentators say the Russian conclusions about last year's crash are expected to increase tensions between Poland and Russia, who have had uneasy relations since the demise of Communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago.