MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin might be expected to hunker down into defense mode as he is besieged by accusations of Russian involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Instead he has stayed on offense and appears to positioning for the long game.
In his televised appearances since last Thursday's crash, Putin's demeanor hasn't wavered from his usual steely determination. He has allowed Russian media to propound theories blaming Ukrainian forces or suggesting a U.S hand in the crash, while refusing to deny such theories and indirectly placing responsibility on the Ukrainians.
Just hours after the crash, Putin laid the groundwork for this approach, saying at a meeting of economic officials that "the tragedy would not have happened" if Ukraine had not resumed its military actions against rebels in late June. "The state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy," he said.
That argument neatly eludes a key issue: that the offensive was renewed after a 10-day unilateral ceasefire that the pro-Russia rebels ignored. Throughout the eastern Ukraine crisis, now in its fourth month, Putin and his officials have consistently portrayed the conflict as Ukraine's unprincipled assault on its own citizens, rather than as a move to take back a sizeable part of the country seized by heavily armed separatists.
The aim is to discredit the Kiev authorities without openly opposing them. Putin even spoke face-to-face in June with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who had just been elected following the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych in the wake of months of mass protests. But on Tuesday, he stepped up the aspersions in a meeting with his security council.
"True, they held elections after the takeover," Putin said. "However, for some strange reason, power ended up again in the hands of those who either funded or carried out this takeover."
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