WARSAW - Poland's defense minister is coming under criticism 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 his weekend comments 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," Macierewicz said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the words "unfounded, biased and having nothing to do with the real circumstances of this tragedy."
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Russia's main investigative agency, said on Twitter: "A new leader has suddenly emerged in the race for the most absurd and stupid statement."
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 the party took power last November it has launched sweeping legal changes to the country and last month reopened an investigation into the crash, which killed 96 people.
Macierewicz said in announcing the new probe in early February that key evidence pointing to Russian responsibility was hidden in the original Polish investigation, which took place under a government led by the rival Civic Platform party.
The plane that crashed in April 2010 was 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 a 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 image. A reaction which caused the death of the entire Polish elite, simply the death of the Polish delegation over Smolensk flying to Katyn."