Ninety-seven people, including Polish president Lech Kaczynski and his wife, were killed this morning when the Tupolev-154 plane they were flying to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre in Katyn, in which 22,000 polish prisoners of war were killed by Russian soldiers. The trip was expected to improve relations between Poland and Russia.
Among the Polish government leaders on the plane were the deputy parliament speaker, the deputy foreign minister and the head of the National Bank of Poland. The military also took a hit, losing the army chief of staff, the navy chief commander, the heads of the air and land forces, and the head of the National Security Office.
Analysts who spoke to CNN were less worried about the effect of the deaths on the government — Kaczynski was not expected to be re-elected — than the effect on the military. Tomas Valasek, of the Center for European Reform, said “The entire top military brass, including the chief of defense and all the services, were on the plane. If that is true, then you’re looking at a situation, in effect, of the decapitation of the military services.”
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has put Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in charge of the investigation of the crash, which a spokesman for the Smolensk regional government said took place after the pilot ignored instructions from air traffic controllers at a fogged-in military airport to divert the flight and land at another airport. The 26-year-old plane was repaired and its engines rebuilt last year. Putin was supposed to attend the memorial.