The West has lost a good friend this morning. Poland’s conservative President Lech Kaczynski, who stood in defense of free nations in the region, was killed along with 88 others when his plane attempted to land in heavy fog in Smolensk. He had flown to Russia to jointly commemorate the massacre of 20,000 Polish Army officers in Katyn forest with the current Russian government:

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed early Saturday when the plane he was traveling in with his wife and a Polish delegation crashed at a western Russian airport, according to the Russian regional governor.

“There are no survivors,” said Smolensk Governor Sergey Antufyev, according to his spokesman. …

The plane was approaching the airport at Smolensk, Russia — just a few miles east of Katyn — and probably hit some trees at the end of the runway, Paszkowski said.

The Investigation Committee of the Russian prosecutor’s office said the plane, a Tupolev-154, was trying to land in heavy fog.

Kaczynski was no stranger to controversy.  Poles elected him in 2005 after dissatisfaction with an earlier slide towards European collectivism.  Kaczynski became a Euro-skeptic, preferring to keep Poland at arms length from the EU.  When Georgia and Ukraine went through tribulations with Russia, Kaczynski was a dependable voice for self-determination in eastern Europe.

Kaczynski wasn’t the only official from Poland on the flight.  He was traveling with a large delegation of officials, all of whom died along with him:

Tusk and Polish cabinet ministers were holding a special meeting Saturday morning to discuss the situation, said a spokeswoman for the Polish Parliament, who declined to be named because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

Under Polish law, if something happens to the president, leadership transfers to the Parliament speaker, who is Bronislaw Komorowski, the spokeswoman said.

She said more information would come out after the meeting.

“There is going to be a huge gap in public life in Poland,” said resident Magdalena Hendrysiak. “The most important people are dead.”

Our prayers and thoughts go out to the Poles and the families of those killed.

Update: Legal Insurrection has more, including reaction from Lech Walesa and the bitter irony of losing these national leaders in connection with the commemoration of the Katyn massacre, the site of which is nearby to the military airport where the crash happened.  “It is a damned place,” said another of Kaczynski’s predecessors in reaction to the crash.

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