Poland demands Russia immediately return Smoleńsk plane wreckage

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Poland is once again demanding that Russia return the Smoleńsk plane wreckage, with the Polish Foreign Ministry asserting in a diplomatic note to the Russian embassy that the wreckage is Polish property.

“The Polish Foreign Ministry has passed a diplomatic note the Russian embassy demanding the Russian side to immediately return Polish property — the Tu-154M plane wreckage. No international law norm gives basis for Russia to continue to keep Polish property,” the ministry stated on Twitter, with the fresh demand for the wreckage coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Smoleńsk air disaster.

The plane wreckage remains at the Smoleńsk North Airport since the crash which killed 96 Polish dignitaries and officials, including President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria.

Polish representatives have often raised the issue of returning the wreckage in talks with the Russian side, including in May 2019, when Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz mentioned the case to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In September 2019, Czaputowicz presented Poland’s position on the matter, which also reflected the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which said Russia should return the wreckage. Czaputowicz indicated that Russia is not eager to submit to the obligations of the resolution. 

He declared that Poland will continue to refer to the matter on the forum of the Council of Europe and find a solution which would result in the return of the wreckage.

Czaputowicz stressed that holding the wreckage on Russian soil is void of any legal basis and has no rational explanation. He added that Poland is ready to mediate the matter with Russia directly, or through a mediator.

The Russian Investigation Committee claims that because the investigation concerning the catastrophe is still ongoing and the wreckage is evidence, it cannot be returned.

Smoleńsk Catastrophe 10th anniversary commemorations

Polish representatives, including Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and several other important PiS members, participated in a small ceremony in Warsaw where they laid wreathes at the Smoleńsk Catastrophe Victims memorial and statue of former President Lech Kaczyński.

The Polish delegation was first mean to fly to Russia to commemorate the anniversary, but decided to cancel the plan due to the Russian side’s unwillingness to host the Polish delegation.

The commemoration was limited in size because of the public gathering restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those gathered paid respects to those who died in the 1940 Katyń Massacre and the 2010 Smolensk Catastrophe.

President Andrzej Duda visited the tomb of former President Lech Kaczyński and his wife in Kraków.

There were no official speeches held. Instead, politicians remembered the deceased through posts they shared on social media.

“10 years ago Polish President Lech Kaczyński, alongside First Lady Maria Kaczyńska and 94 Polish Patriots died while travelling to Katyń to pay respects to the bestially murdered Polish officers on the 70th anniversary of that Soviet crime. We remember. We’ll never forget. Honor to their memory!” Duda wrote on Twitter.

Morawiecki also paid his respects, writing, “10 years since the Smoleńsk catastrophe. This is the moment in which time stopped. That scream still echoes in our ears. We survived that national tragedy as a community. Today, in other circumstances, we still need unity. Honor to the memory of the victims of Katyń and the Smoleńsk tragedy.”

The President’s Chancellery also commemorated the life of former President Lech Kaczyński on Twitter:

On April 10, 2010, the Tu-154M plane carrying the Polish delegation travelling to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1940 Katyń Massacre crashed near Smoleńsk. The crash resulted in the deaths of 96 Polish dignitaries and officials.

The 1940 Katyń Massacre was a series of mass executions carried out by the Soviet NKVD on thousands Polish POWs; most of the victims were military officers and Polish intelligentsia. The Soviets initially blamed the incident on the Nazi Germany, but admitted in 1990 that Soviet forces had carried out the massacre.

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