I believe there is more to the story of the recent crash of the Polish presidential jet in the Katyn forest that killed the key leadership of Poland. I have nothing to base this on except a reporter's intuition. But here is what we know:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a known murderer of journalists and anybody else who dares disagree with him, was meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Moscow to honor the victims of the Katyn massacre--a World War II atrocity in which Stalin had twenty thousand Polish military and civilian leaders slaughtered.
It is the kind of thing a guy like Putin doesn't like to apologize for. Even though he wasn't there at the time.
He is Prime Minister now, no longer Russian president. The Prime Minister's job is, in both Poland and Russia, to serve as head of state, as apposed to the head of government. In theory, the head of state does the ceremonies and the head of government runs the country. In Russia it is believed Vladimir Putin still runs the place.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski is the head of Poland's government and his opposite number in Russia is President Dmitry Medvedev--a Putin lackey.
President Lech Kaczynski, a longtime critic of Russian policy toward Poland, wasn't invited to the ceremonies in Moscow. Putin invited the milder Prime Minister Donald Tusk and held the ceremonies away from the site of the notorious slaughter.
President Lech Kaczynski thus organized a pilgrimage to the Katyn forest with other Polish leaders who had not been invited to the sanitized commemoration.
And, as it turns out, they were flying in a Russian-built jet, a Tupolev Tu-154, that had recently been serviced in Russia. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry (that must be a busy place) will investigate.
It is all an amazing series of unlikely coincidences, and for me, the coincidences are just too amazing to be believed.
We know Putin had Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko poisoned in London with polonium-210. The British say the trail leads straight to a former Russian agent who, in another amazing coincidence, was elected to the Russian Duma shortly after it was announced he was wanted for murder, thus giving him immunity from extradition. During the Communist era, Putin was in the leadership of the Russian security services.
According to Wikipedia: "Litvinenko's allegations about the misdeeds of the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB) and his public deathbed accusations that Russian president Vladimir Putin was behind his unusual malady resulted in worldwide media coverage." But there has not been an arrest of the alleged murderer.
The list of journalists, who have been critics of Putin and who have been murdered, is a long one and, because anyone looking into it is subject to murder as well, a difficult list to investigate. At the end of this piece is an article you can click on to learn more about the International Federation of Journalists work in Russia. They believe Russia is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Following the 2006 death of prominent Putin critic, journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a lot of sources clammed up. Her murder remains unsolved. As do the deaths of several hundred other journalists who tried to write the truth about Putin.
So he doesn't sound like the kind of guy who would shy away from whacking a whole planeload of Poles who wanted the world to see the true nature of Russian evil--even though it was evil done by Putin's paranoid political predecessor.
I don't know if we'll ever hear the truth about this story--the second time the flower of Polish leadership has died in the Katyn forest--but I hope so.
And all this reminded me of a time in Washington D.C. when I interviewed a Russian dissident who had managed to get out of Russia and write a book about his experiences. My face must have registered horror as the man told me tales of what happened to people who tried to speak freely in his native land. When the interview ended and our news program was in a break, he leaned over and said to me in a low voice: "You must remember, Russia is a place where the Renaissance and the Reformation never happened. It is still--morally, artistically, and legally--thousands of years behind the West."
I've never forgotten his words. Nor should we forget the words of Alexander Litvinenko who, as he lay dying, said these words:
"...this may be the time to say one or two things to the person responsible for my present condition. You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life."
A nation built on terror won't last, as we've seen several times before in Russia. But it can do a lot of damage before it dies, as we've also seen at least once--and perhaps more than once--in the Katyn forest.
Journalists Killed in Russia