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Last chance Saloon? Putin shows no sign of change in tack

Moscow, July 20 (Reuters): Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the “last chance saloon” over the Ukraine crisis but appears to be doing little to get out of it.

Since Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 was brought down, Putin has been under intense international pressure to persuade pro-Russian separatists accused by the West of shooting it down to stop fighting.

But for now he seems more intent on bluffing his way through than on trying to use this pivotal moment to emerge as a peacemaker.

There is also no sign of a major change of tack by the Russian leader since the airliner was brought down on Thursday.

Putin, who denies supplying arms to the rebels who have risen up against Kiev’s rule of Russian-speaking east Ukraine, has made muted calls for a ceasefire and demanded an independent investigation in telephone conversations with western leaders.

But there is no sign of any change in the rebels’ behaviour and the President has made no public appeal to them or called for new moves to tighten controls at Russia’s border, where Washington says arms are getting into Ukraine.

Most Russian media are painting a very different picture of events to western leaders and Putin’s allies have rallied around him, blaming the incident on Ukraine’s pro-western leaders and accusing Washington of orchestrating events in Kiev.

The former KGB spy is being pushed into a corner by statements by western leaders that this is his last chance to do something to end the crisis in Ukraine or face more sanctions.

But some Russian experts warn that this is a risky move that could backfire on the West. If you drive a man like Putin into a corner, they say, he will more often than not come out fighting.

“This is a dangerous game,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor, suggesting Putin would find it hard to justify backtracking on Ukraine to a domestic audience fed for months on media propaganda reminiscent of the Soviet era.