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Russia issues blunt message to Poland over crash

The Russian government flatly told Poland on Friday that international law absolved its air traffic controllers of any blame for the crash that killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski in April 2010.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told state television that he understood Poles were experiencing “complex feelings” after an entire generation of top leaders had lost their lives outside the western Russian city of Smolensk.

But he insisted Polish suggestions that Russian air traffic controllers had somehow failed to properly notify the doomed crew about poor weather conditions were simply wrong.

Ivanov said the evidence showed that such warnings had indeed been issued and the Russian side simply had no right to prevent the Polish crew from trying to land the craft.

“The dispatchers cannot prohibit the landing if the craft’s commander or someone else who is on board the plane at the time makes the decision to land no matter what,” Ivanov said.

The disaster killed dozens of senior Polish government leaders as well as army commanders and threatened to sour the two sides’ relations just as they had begun to improve following a decades-long lull.

Russian investigators staged a dramatic press conference two weeks ago in which they played tapes which they said showed that Polish officials on board the plane put pressure on inexperienced pilots to land in dangerous weather.

The findings infuriated Polish leaders and prompted them to stage their own press conference last month where at least some of the blame was placed on Russian air traffic controllers.

A senior Polish presidential aide last week called the Russian report “dishonest” and meant only as a political weapon aimed at dividing and weakening Poland.

But Ivanov insisted that Russia’s record was clean.

“The dispatchers simply had no right to prohibit the landing according to international law,” he said. “All the aviation experts understand this perfectly well.”