The Polish military was “virtually decapitated” early this morning when a plane crash in Russia took the lives of many of Poland’s top military officials along with the country’s head of state and top banker.
The President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, his wife, the head of the Polish National Bank, the head of the National Security Office and the army chief of staff were among the 97 passengers on board a Tupelov-154 attempting to land near Smolensk in western Russia when the Polish military plane apparently crashed into trees close to the airport and was completely destroyed. There were no survivors.
“The entire top military brass, including the chief of defense and all the services, were on the plane,” said Tomas Valasek, of the Center for European Reform.
“If that is true, then you’re looking at a situation, in effect, of the decapitation of the military services.”
The Polish contingency were en route to observe the 70th anniversary of the massacre of some 20,000 Polish prisoners of war (POWs) in the nearby village of Katyn during World War II.
The head of the company that recently serviced the plane seemed to suggest foul play was the cause of the tragedy.
The plane was refurbished and repaired last year, according to the general director of the company that performed the service. Alexei Gusev, the general director of Aviakor Factory, told CNN that the plane received major refurbishing and repair in December 2009.
The work included rebuilding all of the engines, he said. His company also provided the Polish government with repair and maintenance parts for the next six years.
“The plane has been in use very little since that major repair,” he said. “Speaking openly, we believe that this tragedy could not have been caused by equipment failure.”
The crash follows on the heels of recent Russian bombings and occurred only few days after the overthrow of the U.S. leaning Kyrgyzstan government, a former Soviet Republic that is home to an important U.S. airbase providing support for ongoing NATO action in Afghanistan.
Poland, a NATO member, recently agreed to deploy an American “missile shield.” Missile deployment is planned to begin later this month despite serious Russian concerns.