Wires

Poland's president calls off Russia trip due to coronavirus

Joanna Plucinska

* Polish president calls off Russia trip

* Coronavirus spread blamed for cancellation

* PM may attend 10th anniversary of plane crash

* Alternative ceremonies being considered

* Plane crash has sown division between Poland, Russia

WARSAW, March 13 (Reuters) - Poland's President Andrzej Duda will not travel to Russia next month due to the coronavirus, missing ceremonies marking the 10-year anniversary of a plane crash which killed Poland's president, central bank chief and military commanders.

The plane crash in thick fog over a small airport in Russia stunned Poland, exacerbating political divisions and reviving historic suspicions about Russia, its former Cold War master.

The death of Lech Kaczynski, the country's then president and twin brother of the current head of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw, sparked various theories over what caused the crash.

An inquiry by the previous government returned a verdict of pilot error, but PiS has argued the crash could have been caused by an explosion on board. Some in Poland believe they were murdered.

"The president will not fly to Smolensk...as he had hoped," a government official with knowledge of the decision told Reuters.

"All options are still on the table with regards to the prime minister," he added, emphasising how important the anniversary was to the party.

Ties between Moscow and Warsaw have plumbed new lows after a series of comments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin last December about Poland bearing some responsibility for the outbreak of World War Two.

But Russian authorities said earlier this year they would cooperate with Poland to allow anniversary ceremonies in Smolensk to proceed.

Poland has since taken drastic measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, closing schools, museums, theatres and cinemas while also declaring a state of epidemic threat.

Officials close to the prime minister said they hope the spread of the coronavirus may subside in the next month ahead of the anniversary, allowing more senior Polish officials to travel, but realistically this may not be the case.

Poland has confirmed 58 cases of the coronavirus and one death, while Russia has 28 cases.

Alternate ceremonies and arrangements are being considered, such as sending diplomatic staff to the event in Russia while holding the main ceremony in Krakow on April 18, the anniversary of former president Lech Kaczynski's funeral, an official said.

No formal decision has yet been made about the events surrounding the anniversary, the prime minister's spokesman Piotr Muller told Reuters.

A plan is likely to be announced either by the end of this week or early next week after further discussions on the matter, he added.

The president's spokesman declined to comment.

"It's up to them (the Polish authorities) to decide if they intend to organise memorial ceremonies in Smolensk and to inform the media about it," the Embassy of Russia in Poland told Reuters in an email response.

Russia has cancelled its annual economic forum in St. Petersburg, initially scheduled for June, over the virus. (Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow and Andrew Osborn in MOSCOW, Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Michael Perry)