Vladminir Putin has personally taken charge of the investigation of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and most of his upper government and top brass this weekend.
I’m sure this is meant to signal solidarity with and support for the Polish people and government. But how likely is it to be perceived as such? Conspiracy theories about Russia’s possible involvement in the crash began swirling about shortly after news broke and seem to have been exacerbated by this announcement.* Of course, suggestions of foul play are likely unfounded: though one can argue Russia may well gain from a destabilized Poland, all evidence points toward human error and aggravating weather.
But from a PR perspective, that’s hardly the point. Symbolically, the tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time or place in terms of exacerbating tensions between Russia and Poland. For that reason, Polish officials themselves should be involved in heading the official investigation, rather than simply running one in parallel, to allay suspicions and fears and turn this terrible tragedy into an opportunity for mutual cooperation, rather than a return to decades-old recriminations and mistrust.
*As of today, members of Hubdub are staking virtual dollars on whether or not the Polish government will formally lodge an accusation within the next couple of weeks. So far, most predict no – a healthy sign that calmer heads will prevail.