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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Poland's tragedy

AMERICANS' hearts go out in sympathy to the people of Poland and to the many people in this country of Polish descent on the loss of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and 94 others - some of them senior officials - in a tragic air crash Saturday in western Russia.

Mr. Kaczynski flew there on a mission of attempted reconciliation between the two countries. In an especially foul deed, in the context of World War II, the Soviet Union executed some 20,000 captured officers of the Polish armed forces in 1940 in the Katyn forest, near Smolensk, where Mr. Kaczynski's aircraft was attempting to land. That event, understandably, has remained an indelible stain on Polish-Russian relations to this day, sharpening Poland's continued distrust of Russia.

Mr. Kaczynski was traveling to participate in a ceremony to complement one attended earlier in the week by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

While the investigation of the cause of the crash is ongoing, the tragedy may have been avoidable. The aircraft, a Tupolev Tu-154 operated by the Polish air force, was not state-of-the-art in terms of safety features. The pilot had been advised not to land at Smolensk given weather conditions but obviously was under some pressure to deliver his passengers to the site on time. Some governments also make it a point not to put large numbers of senior officials on the same aircraft during such missions.

The Russians appear to be doing their best to express their own deep sympathy at the Poles' loss. Mr. Putin especially has been very prominent in acts commemorating the crash.

For the United States - although it is difficult to say that something good can come from such a tragedy - the easing of tensions between NATO countries such as Poland and Russia, its large neighbor to the east, constitutes a positive development. It is a small thought to keep in mind as mourning for the lost Polish president proceeds this week.

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