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Is Russia Refusing to Transfer Presidential Plane Wreckage to Poland?

Maria Zakharova

Maria Zakharova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswomen

“There are no outstanding inquiries from Poland regarding the wreckage still in Russia that we have not considered or responded to. I can’t remember any such request being rejected."

In dispute
... may be up to international court to decide

On February 3, commenting on the Polish military plane crash in 2010 in Russia which killed the Polish president and members of his entourage, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the Polish authorities of “vigorously” politicizing “the tragedy” by taking the case to the United Nations' principal court.

"There are no outstanding inquiries from Poland regarding the wreckage still in Russia that we have not considered or responded to,” Zakharova said, adding that the Russian authorities are willing “to cooperate with Poland over any issues.”

Investigations by Russia and Poland concluded the Polish Air Force Tu-154 was brought down by an accident in bad weather.

But the Polish government says that Moscow has not fully cooperated with a second investigation, launched in 2016, and is refusing to transfer the airplane remains from Russia to Poland.

Russian President Vladimir "Putin says he's ready to do everything," Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said recently. "Here's my response: no need to do everything, just start by returning the Tupolev 154 wreckage."

The dispute is likely headed to the UN's judicial arm - the International Court of Justice in The Hague - after Poland threatened to file against Russia for its alleged refusal to cooperate in the second probe.

As the accident occurred on the Russian territory, Russia assumed primary responsibility for investigation based on International Civil Aviation Organization regulations. Polish authorities participated in the Russian probe and conducted one of their own.

The Russian-led Interstate Aviation Committee released its investigation report in January 2011. It mainly blamed the Polish crew and alleged pressure from Polish officials aboard on the pilot to land the plane in poor conditions.

The Polish report by the previous government, concluded in July 2011 that Polish pilot error, poor guidance by the Russian air tower controller, and poor visibility due to a heavy fog caused the crash.

Polish President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and dozens of high-level military and civilian officials were among 96 people killed in the crash.

A new investigation was launched after Kaczynski's twin brother Jaroslaw, and his conservative Law and Justice party, won the majority in both chambers of the Polish parliament in 2015.

Waclaw Berczynski, the Subcommittee Chairman for Accident Investigation at the State Aviation Air Investigation Board in Poland, told by email that “the new Polish government found new facts which warranted reopening the investigation.

“Polish government officials submitted over 200 questions/remarks to” Russian investigators, Berczynski wrote. “(The Russians) were required to answer and include Polish remarks in the report they submitted to the international community...They never did.”

Based on international aviation probe standards - known as the Convention on International Civil Aviation Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation - the “State of Occurrence shall release custody of the aircraft, its contents or any parts thereof as soon as they are no longer required in the investigation, to any person or persons duly designated by the State of Registry or the State of the Operator, as applicable.”

Berczynski said that Russia is in violation of this regulation.

“The wreckage of the plane is stored in Smolensk and to our knowledge nobody is doing any investigation,” he wrote.

Moscow says its investigation of the wreckage is not finished, meaning Russia meets international aviation investigation standards since the wreckage remains "required in the investigation."

Polish officials say they are not "politicizing" the probe, as Zakharova claims.

“The Polish government does not try to politicize the issue,” Berczynski told “The plane is the property of the Polish government. In what sense is requesting the return of Polish property to Poland political?”