The Latest Stupid Conspiracy Theory: A Second Katyn


On Saturday afternoon, driving through Cambridge, Massachusetts and listening to the BBC World Service program World Have Your Say, the inevitable happened, though slightly earlier than I had anticipated.  The BBC host read, in his plummy, Tuppy Glossop accent, an email from a Polish listener who had already determined, guided by both instinct and a basic knowledge of Russian imperialism, that the plane crash in Smolensk was engineered by the Russian security services, the FSB. Less than 24 hours after the crash and the Putinophobic (a condition from which I too suffer) were already connecting the dots, despite there being no available dots to connect. 

The Week roundups up reactions to the "Katyn Two" (the plane was headed to a commemoration of the Soviet  massacre of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn) conspiracies here. In the New York Post, historian Arthur Herman suggests that "Others won't believe [the Russian account of the crash]—remembering that President Lech Kaczynski was a bitter foe of Russia's Vladimir Putin, and how Putin's dreaded FSB (the KGB's successor) was linked six years ago to a plot to poison Ukraine's president….We won't know the truth about this weekend's crash until the plane's "black box" flight recorder is safely out of Russian hands."

Just asking questions, naturally. But Herman should also point out that the Russian version of events is also accepted by Poland, who understand that the FSB might be devilishly clever but isn't likely to engineer bad weather in Smolensk or locate a Quisling Pole willing to act as the Mohammad Atta in a "new Katyn." Nor do I suspect the conspiracy-obsessed producers at Russia Today (RT) will give much airtime to this particular "alternative theory" of the crash. Not surprisingly, the paranoid schizophrenics and fatuous "investigative journalists" of the American conspiracy fringe, those likely to believe any tale of an impending fascist takeover of Washington, appear to have pledged a vow of silence on all things Putin.

In The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum, wife of Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, comments on the conspiracy loons, though I think she underestimates the tendency of such nonsense to metastasize and infect the debate. Indeed, a Polish MP, Arthur Gorski, has already suggested that Russia engineered the crash.

I reviewed David Aaronovitch's book on conspiracy theories here.


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  1. I thought of the possibility of a Russian Conspiracy from the moment I heard of the crash, especially as the (BBC) newscast showed Putin lurking vulture-like at the theme and promissing a “full investigation” that he had “taken direct charge of.”

    Though I dislike Putin, the circumstances of the crash – bad weather and an apparently too low approach – make me think it was likely an accident.

    1. Argh

      “Scene” not “theme”

      Not even close!

      1. Patrick Smith over at Salon always provides outstanding reporting on aviation events.

        While it’s possible that some sort of on-board systems failure may have contributed to the accident, the evidence thus far points to crew error. There was heavy fog at the Smolensk airport, and reportedly the flight had been instructed not to land, as visibility had fallen below the minimum required for landing. The pilots elected to try anyway, making four attempts, descending too low and striking trees.

        Hard to pin a Russian conspiracy on a Polish pilot that makes four, count’em four, attempts to land at an airstrip in below-minima conditions.

        1. Agreed.

          But you gotta admit that Putin would make a perfect movie-of-the-week villan.

        2. Who says they made four landing attempts? Oh, that’s right, people who could be made to disappear by the Russian security services. That’s great evidence that the Russian security services weren’t behind the crash.

          Not that I’m saying the Russians were behind the accident, but the reported testimony of Russians is worthless in exonerating the Russian state. And it turns out to be wrong anyway; the flight recorders say only two landing attempts were made.

          1. So the pilot was only twice stupid instead of four times stupid?

            1. Well, that’s half as stupid, right?

          2. Who says they made four landing attempts? Oh, that’s right, people who could be made to disappear by the Russian security services.

            Yeah, but you’re just saying that because you could be made to disappear by the CIA.

        3. How much do you know about guidance systems used during comercial airliner approach? Many (russian) experts disagree with (so convenient) theory of pilot’s error. For commercial flights, (all of them under IFR – see online what it is), visibility is not all that important. BTW, there was only one approach, few circles around the airport indicate pilots likely had problems with the info received from the ATC…There are plenty of opinions of russian commercial aviation safety experts posted (with real names and job titles) on russian internet (if you care to understand) taking pilot error or equipment malfunction theory apart. Think…Having US president afraid of Russia, bending under Putin’s pressure, FSB and SVR could easily do it without being afraid of international consequences.

        4. Because the world saw “some computer creation” of four attempts, the whole world believes … Was only one attempt! Perhaps, depending what news you are reading you may know the answer. Everyone rushes to know, perhaps this conspiracy may take long to solve. Gen Sikorski died in aircraft crash 1943, not long after he asked for Red Cross investigation. I know is not easy to find good history books, and internet can not be given all authority to decide on past and present history. Please if you may have time read Norman Davis history books,or popular book by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud A HISTORY OF HONOR. You may understand then.

        5. Because the world saw “some computer creation” of four attempts, the whole world believes … Was only one attempt! Perhaps, depending what news you are reading you may know the answer. Everyone rushes to know, perhaps this conspiracy may take long to solve. Gen Sikorski died in aircraft crash 1943, not long after he asked for Red Cross investigation. I know is not easy to find good history books, and internet can not be given all authority to decide on past and present history. Please if you may have time read Norman Davis history books,or popular book by Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud A HISTORY OF HONOR. You may understand then.

    2. I think it was the same people who killed Senator Wellstone.

    3. Also, I don’t think the Russians are quite dumb and reckless enough to deliberately wipe out half the Polish government in one go. If they got caught it would be clear causus belli for NATO, and I can’t see them trying to get a World War started right this instant.

      1. They will deny it. They have the evidence in their hands. Voices of the truth won’t be heard, or called russian haters, crazy conspiracy theorists etc. etc. The mob will believe it, politicians gladly turn their eyes the other way, why bother…The truth (maybe) will surface 50 years later, (see: gen Sikorski murder, WWII) when it won’t be all that important for the politics then. Logical?

      2. I wouldn’t have thought they were dumb enough 70 years ago, either. I have no reason to think that a deliberate replay of that long-ago event happened this month but also no reason to think it didn’t. Yes, no one in power in Russia or in Poland (at least, now) has a reason to want anything but the official version get attention, but that doesn’t mean that there was a conspiracy. On the other hand, if I were a Polish politician, I might see this as a message and I would think twice from now on about doing anything to anger Russia. So, Poland is now cowed by Russia, deliberately or not.

    4. the circumstances of the crash – bad weather

      Yeah, but where do you think the fog came from? Outer space?


  2. Yes, it was that fateful meeting between Nixon and Hitler in Uruguay in 1956.
    Among other matters, it was decided to issue the order for the Tupolev factory to install the 42-year delayed-action device on aircraft #768214….

    1. It’s been reported that Bigfoot was seen wrestling the stick away from the pilot. The plot thickens…


        1. But you DO admit to enjoying a good stick-wrestle now and again, right?


  3. Since Republicans seem to like him, I’m going with FALSE FLAG TEABAG MARTYR on this one. Kaczynski was found with a backwards “B” scratched into his cheek.

    1. The Polish government did it! Building 7 proves it!

  4. As the plane came in for its final fateful landing attempt – the Teabaggers waved Gadsden flags and chanted “Nigger-Nigger-Nigger.”

    1. you are such a stupid sh.t

  5. Not saying there’s anything to this conspiracy theory, but about 10-15 years there was this Russian politician named Alexander Lebed, who was very popular and who was a strong but moderate voice.

    He, too, died in a plane crash. And his death led directly to the ascension of Putin.

    Just saying . . .

  6. It is probably worth noting that Poland doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to losing important leaders in dubiously timed aircraft mishaps. Not trying to spark paranoia as I tend to side with the skeptics when it comes to all things conspiracy, but the rush to grandiose conclusions is a bit more understandable in this particular case.

    1. can’t help to agree

  7. “On Saturday afternoon, driving through Cambridge, Massachusetts and listening to the BBC World Service program World Have Your Say…”

    Thanks for setting the scene, douche bag.

  8. Those tree supposedly knocked over by the crash? You guessed it. Controlled explosives.

  9. please, if they had audio on this it would go something like this:

    pilot: sir, Russians say too much fog to land.

    politician: f*** Russians show them how Polish pilot land plane

    The rest, as they say…

    1. winner….I still think we should all side with not believing the MSM or the politicians…they tend to lie. The IMF wanted Poland to take more loans and not pay off debt. Poland was like”fuck that, we don’t want to be owned by you assholes”…just saying.

    2. They do have audio, and, so far, it has not confirmed your version.

  10. The Katyn conspiracy theory is indeed a little cooky, but the one about the FSB being behind the Moscow Metro bombing is a lot more grounded in reality. In fact, it’s the explanation of choice among Russian bloggers, who are pretty much the last bastion of the free press in that country.

    For a more nuanced look at the theory by someone who isn’t known to jump on every conspiracy theory he sees, check out David McDuff ? respected Russian translator and scholar ? and his blog, where he compiles evidence in favor of the Moscow Metro bombing being an FSB false flag attack.

    For more on this theory applied to other major acts of “Chechen” terror (1999 apartment bombings, Nord-Ost, Beslan), see their respective Wikipedia pages ? the conspiracy theories are mainstream enough to warrant significant inclusion in their pages. At the very least, the 1999 apartment bombings were almost assuredly FSB operations (can you say: Ryazan?). The rest are up for debate, but I don’t think that reasonably informed observers can dispute what happened in Ryazan.

    1. If only those foolish Chechan separatist didn’t keep taking credit for all those incidents I might give a moments thought to the FSB theory.

      But they do. I won’t.

      1. JaySub, It’s conceivable that a group like the Chechen separatists would take cred for an act they know they didn’t commit if they knew they’d get blamed anyway and it met helped their aims.

        And if it was the FSB, I don’t think they’d admit it even if somebody else claimed it.

      2. moles…double agents…it is easy to get whatever group you want to “take credit” for something if you have the power to send people to prison.

      3. Uhh, you didn’t notice how the immediately Caucasian Emirate specifically disavowed involvement in the attack? And how the video “claiming” the attack ? which surfaced days later, in direct contravention of the first statement, without any explanation of why and how the first was wrong ? is ridiculously suspicious, having video/audio that’s not synced, and verdant green in the background despite the fact that a terrorist leader would have to be high up in the Caucasian mountains? I dare you to watch the original video, even without knowledge of Russian language or geography, and tell me that you honestly think that video wasn’t doctored.

        Nope, nothing suspicious about any of that…

      4. PS, unfortuantely it looks like Google took down the video, but I saw it with my own two eyes before it was taken down, and I can promise you that the video and audio are definitely not coming from the same source. You can translate this link into English to see a more detailed analysis. Also, surprise, surprise ? it was the Russian government itself that had the video taken down.

        PPS, to the Reason webmaster: you should probably consider raising the amount of links allowed in a comment. Unless you’re trying to get your commenters out of the habit of citing their assertions?

        1. Here ? I found a copy of the video. Watch that and try to tell me with a straight face that the sound wasn’t recorded on a soundstage somewhere in the depths of Lubyanka.

          PS, Reason/Michael Moynihan ? why are you covering this total non-story, but not the much more credible conspiracy theory about the Moscow Metro bombing?

    2. I spent 3 weeks in Ryazan as a visiting student when I was in High School back in 1992, right after the USSR fell, for what it’s worth. Fascinating trip.

      Still keep in touch with some people there and none of them ever believed that it was anything other than FSB.

    3. Even Cathy Young said she believed that Putin did some false flag attacks over the last decade. She just doesn’t think OUR government would do such a horrible thing…Our government really loves us.

  11. Sabotage was the first thing I thought of when I heard the story, but then I decided the facts as they were told didn’t quite fit that theory.

    Then the more I thought about it, the more I figured the “we’re landing no matter what” scenario was ever likely.

    That whole issue is very touchy to both sides and I’ve read in more than one place that the Poles very likely could have thought it was a dirty Russian trick to get them to miss the ceremony altogether.

    But as much as I don’t like Putin, the facts just don’t work out to make that final leap.

  12. A created a scale model Tupolev 154M out of chicken wire and cinder blocks. Not only was aviation fuel insufficient to make the model burn to the level seen in accident photographs, the thing wouldn’t even fly in the first place. It just doesn’t hold water.

    1. (“A” is what I call myself when I’m in forensic scientist mode.)

      1. Well, A is A, Fist, so it’s always a good way to start, especially if you’re questioning premises.

        1. A examined your comment, concluded it is a diversionary tactic and am wondering what you’re hiding.

  13. Everything is as it seems!

    1. The NYT and Fox News have the truth market cornered. That is how we knew that we needed to invade Iraq.

  14. In The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum, wife of Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski…

    Anne Applebaum is the wife of Poland’s Foreign Minister????

    1. Radek Sikorski is a pretty amazing guy. Shoulda been the NATO Sec Gen.

  15. Would the Poles say the Russians did it even if they had proof? Keep in mind that they would have to react to that sort of act of war, their public would demand it, but what could they do? Look at how quickly the South Koreans backed away from the idea that the North sunk that ship of theirs a couple weeks ago. Maybe the North did have nothing to do with it, but again, if they did, the South would have to respond, and what could they do?

  16. check out this 2 records:
    1. made by some russian (notice what you hear in the back especially in the end)
    2. made by polish camera man that was near the airport

    why there no shots on “polish” record (it is made in similar time that “russian” record), there are big flames in 1st record
    and the last doubt, why they did not do a dissection of the bodies to know the cause of the death of all victims??

    1. why they did not do a dissection of the bodies to know the cause of the death of all victims??

      Because faceplant, that’s why.

    2. Could you be more specific about your conclusions?

  17. we don’t say it was SECOND KATYN , and we don’t put the whole blame on Russians for that accident, but considering our history with them, it is hard to fully trust in what they do and what they say. We don’t say it was Katyn 2 we just feel we lost the greatest from the greatest in that same forest as we did 70 years ago. And it is not so easy to chew…


    1. (time do de-lurk again, I guess.)

      If Lech was the best Poland has to offer, it is in far bigger trouble that I thought. And without going into whether Russia has any reason to apologize for something USSR did (or did not, but that’s an issue for a whole another discussion)…
      Did Poland ever apologize for 30000 Soviet soldiers they starved to death on POW camps? No? Thought so.

      1. To Mad Ivan:

        Did Russia ever acknowldeged and felt sorry for the fact that Soviets starved to death 6 mln Ukrainians between 1932 and 1939? Innocent people, woman and children died of artificial starvation done by Soviets liders. The same amount of people as Hitler killed in Holocaust. Shame on Russia and they should aplogize for killing and lying for generations.

  18. Perhaps in your search about conspiracy, you may wish to know about Gen Sikorski plane crashing 1943 over the Gilbraltar, that conspiracy never was solved…Sikorski demended Red Cross investigation in Katyn, not long before crash. Perhaps life is stranger than imagination.

  19. First, you assume conspiracy is unreasonable. If it were, there would not be conspiracy statutes in all 50 states and in federal codes. Nor would there be a civil cause of conspiracy.

    In international politics, where there is no dominant law enforcement mechanism short of war, conspiracy crime for political gain pays more than in domestic venues.

    That said, it isn’t all. Where governments have huge PR, propaganda and psyops budgets to manipulate their way in foreign affairs, ruling out conspiracy via thorough investigation should be considered a sign of sanity, while dismissing it 2 days after the event as you have done here is just faux-intellectual posturing.

    More likely, the journalistic reinforcement of nation state propaganda that dismisses populist voices exists to elevate journalism as a protected career. Conspiracy theorist is a smear-label aimed down the MSM nose at the people who read their reports and blog about them. It is elitist because it denigrates public / citizen journalists and analysts for having limited information while the MSM elites feed at the trough of official leaks & manipulative press-handling tactics, becoming infected by their sources. Citizen journalists and news analysts don’t have that particular bias problem, or that dependency. Sure, some are off-base, but so are some journalists, MSM angles, headlines, and stories.

    The conspiracy theorist is no different than the non-conspiracy theorist when no thorough investigation has been done, verified or independently established.

  20. Here you are two days after the crash basing a conclusion of no-conspiracy on the supposition that no one in Poland or Russia believes it is one. That’s a fallacy at its foundation and a bit oxymoronic for Reason.

    At Analyst Bluepapers blog there is a series of posts with sound questions for anyone following this story.

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