Another Tragedy Strikes Polish-Russian Relations
LEADING ARTICLE Leaders everywhere must do their utmost to help limit the damage
Many Poles believe their country to be uniquely prone to tragedy, and the air crash that took the lives of the President, his wife, and dozens of senior officials this weekend will do nothing to dislodge that conviction. The site of the disaster, in the forest of Katyn near Smolensk, adds a bitter and mocking irony. Of all the places in the world where the Polish President's plane could have met with catastrophe, it had to be here: so close to where the elite of the Polish military was murdered on the orders of Stalin - a place, and an act, that prevented any real normalisation of Polish- Russian relations for the whole of the post-war period.
No less tragic and ironic was the timing. The President and his delegation were travelling to Smolensk for ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn killings. But the wreath-layings and services to have been held on Saturday were, in political terms, a coda to a joint Russian-Polish commemoration earlier in the week. In a move without precedent, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, had invited his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, to join him in marking this most emotive of anniversaries. And in his speech, Mr Putin acknowledged Soviet responsibility, but also pleaded with Poles to draw a distinction between the Soviet Union under Stalin and Russia today.
Both Mr Tusk's acceptance of the Russian invitation and Mr Putin's words were seen as opening the way for warmer relations between the two countries. But not everyone in Poland supported the efforts of Mr Tusk and his foreign minister, Radoslav Sikorski, in their overtures towards Russia, and the President, Lech Kaczynski, was among the critics. Differences over Russia policy were one reason why Mr Tusk and President Kaczynski headed separate delegations to separate commemorations at Katyn. …