Russia denounces Polish leader over plane crash claim

By VANESSA GERA - Associated Press 15 March 2016, 12:00AM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Moscow on Monday denounced Poland's defense minister for suggesting that the 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed Poland's president was an act of terrorism perpetrated by Russia.

Official investigations by Poland and Russia have determined that the crash that killed Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other top officials was an accident caused by the error of pilots trying to land in heavy fog.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has long suggested the crash, which took place near Smolensk, Russia, could have been an assassination, but comments he made over the weekend were unusually strong.

"What happened near Smolensk was aimed at depriving Poland of its leadership, which was on a path of leading our nation to independence," Macierewicz said in a lecture at a Catholic university in the city of Torun. "We were the first victims of terrorism in the 1930s, and through Smolensk, we can say that we were also the first major victim of terrorism in a modern conflict, which is unfolding before our eyes."

Russia's Foreign Ministry described Macierewicz's statements as absurd.

"Irresponsible statements by Mr. Macierewicz aimed at further destabilization of the already difficult relations between our countries aren't in sync with earlier signals from Warsaw suggesting a desire to develop pragmatic cooperation between Russia and Poland using bilateral mechanisms and formats that have been frozen by the previous government," it said in a statement.

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the words as "unfounded, biased and having nothing to do with the real circumstances of this tragedy."

In Poland, an opposition lawmaker and former deputy foreign minister, Rafal Trzaskowski, said he was "terrified by these words."

Macierewicz is due to host a NATO summit taking place in Warsaw in July. The military alliance is increasingly at odds with Russia over its actions in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere.

Kaczynski was the identical twin brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the governing party, Law and Justice. Since it took power last November it has launched sweeping legal changes to the country and in February Macierewicz reopened an investigation into the crash that killed 96 people. He said key evidence pointing to Russian responsibility was hidden in the original Polish investigation, which took place under the rival Civic Platform party.

The plane crashed while carrying a presidential delegation to Russia for observances honoring Polish officers killed in and around Katyn by the Soviet secret police in 1940. For decades Moscow refused to acknowledge responsibility for those crimes, and the subject was taboo for decades of Moscow-backed communist rule in Poland as well.

Macierewicz said that Poland appeared to finally be free in 2009 to speak openly about those massacres. But "half a year later we learned that raising this issue would trigger a reaction which the modern world could not imagine. A reaction which caused the death of the entire Polish elite, simply the death of the Polish delegation over Smolensk flying to Katyn."

By VANESSA GERA - Associated Press 15 March 2016, 12:00AM

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