Russia denies air controllers at fault for Polish presidential crash

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia's investigators on Thursday said its probe into the 2010 Polish presidential jet crash is almost complete, rejecting claims that Russian air traffic controllers were to blame.

"The Russian investigation sees no grounds to talk of even minimal responsibility of the flight control group for the air crash," a statement by the Investigative Committee said.

"They were acting in full accordance to instructions and international civil aviation rules," it said.

Poland last month charged two of the Russian controllers at Smolensk airport over having some responsibility for the accident that killed 96 people, including then President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and many top officials.

"At this time, we can say that the reason for the plane crash was a combination of factors," said the Russian statement.

It blamed the Polish crew's decision to not land at a different airport in poor weather conditions and their failure to react to automated system warnings during descent.

A leaked Polish transcript this week suggested that the Polish air force commander was in the cockpit during landing and that the pilots were pressured into landing in thick fog by their superior.

The Russian statement said that "most of the work on the criminal case has been finished" but added that it still needs information from the Polish side to complete the process, after which the plane debris can be expected to finally be sent to Poland.

Poland has complained of Russia's refusal to hand over the wreckage, but the Russian statement said keeping evidence during an ongoing investigation is "standard international practice" and said Poland was holding up the probe's conclusion.

"Right now there are still outstanding requests by Russia to their Polish colleagues that have not been fulfilled," the statement said.