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Putin brews mix of conciliation and bluster
Probe nudge to militants

Moscow, July 22: Russia has presented a combination of conciliation and bluster over its handling of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet with President Vladimir Putin seemingly probing for a way out of the crisis without appearing to compromise with the West.

On one hand, he offered conciliatory words in a video statement, oddly released in the middle of the night, while the separatists allied with Moscow in south-eastern Ukraine released the bodies of the victims and turned over the black box flight recorders from the doomed aircraft to Malaysian officials. Analysts suggested Putin’s timing was aimed more at Washington than Russia.

However, two senior military officers forcefully demanded that the US show publicly any proof that rebels fired the fatal missile, and again suggested that the Ukrainian military shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet despite the fact that Ukraine has not used antiaircraft weapons in the fight along its eastern border.

In fresh comments on Tuesday, Putin said Russia would use its influence with separatists in east Ukraine to allow a full investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner but said the West must put pressure on Kiev to end hostilities.

Putin also called on western powers not to meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs and said steps were needed to strengthen the country's military capabilities because of moves by Nato and to protect the economy from “external threats”.

“We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough,” Putin said at the start of a meeting with defence and security chiefs.

“Ultimately, there is a need to call on the authorities in Kiev to respect basic norms of decency, and at least for a short time implement a ceasefire,” he said.

Reading from notes at the head of a long table with officials seated on each side, Putin spoke much more forcefully than during brief televised remarks on the plane's downing first released in the early hours of Monday, when he had seemed less assured than usual.

Despite western sanctions, he said Moscow would stand by separatists in eastern Ukraine whom, he described as part of a popular rising against an illegal coup.

“Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: ‘Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia and we will not impose sanctions against you’,” Putin said. “This is a strange and unacceptable logic.”

He did not, however, directly address the question of whether Russia has been arming the rebels -- he has denied such accusations before.

“Putin is trying to find his own variation of a twin-track decision, because he does not have a clear exit,” said Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a political consultant who once worked for the Kremlin.

The pressure continued to expand. President Obama delivered yet another personal rebuke to Putin from the White House lawn over the intransigence of the rebels toward the international investigation, hours before they agreed to more cooperation.

In addition, an initial expert analysis of photographs of the airplane’s fuselage found that the damage was consistent with being struck by the type of missile that US officials said was used.

European Union governments will discuss a specific list of possible new targets for Russia sanctions on Thursday. EU foreign ministers met in Brussels.

“Of course this is a strong blow to him, a strong blow to his strategy,” said Pavlovsky, referring to the fact that Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine have been discredited globally, due to suspicions that they shot down the aircraft and their handling of the crash site.

Obama called for Putin to “pivot away” from the rebels, linking him directly to their abuse of the crash site.

“Russia, and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation,” he said in brief remarks. “President Putin says that he supports a full and fair investigation and I appreciate those words, but they have to be supported by actions.”

 
 
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