The horrific downing of a Malaysia Airlines commercial jetliner over Ukraine last week, apparently by surface-to-air missiles launched by Russian separatists, has put Vladimir Putin in a desperate bind.
That could be the only good thing to come out of this grotesque tragedy. The Russian president wants a way out without appearing culpable or weak, but the world must demand accountability.
Putin now is trying to distance himself and his nation from the separatist group in Ukraine, but he just spent months engaged in a public campaign throughout Russia championing the separatists’ cause and justifying the need for Russian troops to help them. The sophisticated missiles that brought down Flight 17 had to come from Russia.
World outrage has intensified as evidence of Putin’s responsibility mounts.
The stress of the moment seemed evident as Putin appeared in a strange video that aired on state television just after 1:30 a.m. Tuesday Moscow time. In it, he again called for an international investigation of the crash, even as the pro-Russian separatists destroyed evidence at the site.
The video showed a much different Putin from the one we’ve come to know. His demeanor was less arrogant and seemed hesitant. He did not look squarely into the camera, as is his style.
Timing of the video’s release indicates it was meant not so much for Russian consumption as for the rest of the world -- a feeble attempt to forestall further sanctions against Russia by Western nations that have reacted to the battle for Ukraine.
Ukraine became an independent state when the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991. Much of it has been tilting westward toward the European Union, but Russia wants it to remain in its sphere of influence. The population in eastern Ukraine, on the Russian border, seems more inclined to do that.
The disingenuousness of Putin’s conciliatory video was revealed soon after when two high-ranking Russian military officers held a news conference to demand that the U.S. release any evidence that Russia had been involved in any way in the aircraft’s destruction.
They went so far as to suggest that the U.S. and the Ukrainian army had conspired in the attack, suggesting that the real target might have been a plane carrying Putin that was in the area at the time.
The U.S. and Europe must stand united against this abomination and demand public answers and restitution.
If ever there was an opportunity to rein in Putin’s increasingly aggressive behavior, this is it. He needs to be an example for any nation that is irresponsible in passing out sophisticated weaponry to groups that may be reckless in its use.
Trying to ensure this never happens again is the only way to honor the victims of Flight 17 and their families.
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