MOSCOW/WARSAW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was tired of hearing allegations from Warsaw that a 2010 plane crash that killed then Polish President Lech Kaczynski was the result of a Russian conspiracy, drawing a sharp rebuke from Warsaw.
Responding to a question from a Polish reporter at an annual news conference, Putin said it was time for Poland to move beyond the plane crash, turn a new page, and “grow up”.
A Polish Air Force Tu-154 plane crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk on April 10, 2010, killing all 96 people on board, including President Kaczynski, whose twin brother Jaroslaw is now the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, in power since 2015.
A previous Polish government concluded that pilot error was to blame for the crash, but Law and Justice ordered a new investigation which concluded this year that the plane was brought down by explosions on board.
The crash remains deeply divisive in Poland, where many politicians emerged from an anti-Communist tradition that long saw Moscow as an enemy. Poland’s defense minister denounced Putin’s comments.
“In the mouth of the leader of a country that is responsible for the Katyn genocide, as well as for the Smolensk tragedy, such words are really shocking,” Antoni Macierewicz told public radio PR 24, referring to a Soviet massacre of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals during World War Two, as well as the Smolensk crash.
“President Putin should finally face the truth: two explosions which eventually destroyed the Tu-154 were incontestably identified by official expertise,” Macierewicz said.
The new investigatory commission created by Macierewicz said in April this year that blasts most likely tore the plane into pieces killing all 96 people seconds before it hit the ground.
It repeated allegations that Russian air traffic controllers had deliberately set the plane on the wrong descent path. Polish prosecutors said then they would press charges against two controllers. Moscow rejected the allegations.
Reporting by Denis Pinchuk, Jack Stubbs and Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporing by Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Editing by Peter Graff