MOSCOW — Russia presented a combination of conciliation and bluster Monday 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 southeastern Ukraine released the bodies of the victims and turned over the black box flight recorders from the doomed aircraft to Malaysian officials.
However, two senior military officers forcefully demanded that the United States 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 anti-aircraft weapons in the fight along its eastern border.
Mr. Putin seemed to respond to the outraged international demands growing daily that he intervene personally to rein in the rebels — particularly to halt the degrading chaos surrounding the recovery of the remains. But at the same time, Moscow did not concede that it was at fault.
“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 Barack Obama delivered yet another personal rebuke to Mr. 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 U.S. officials said was used.
Today, Russia faces the threat of far more serious sanctions from its main trading partners in Western Europe.
“Of course this is a strong blow to him, a strong blow to his strategy,” said Mr. 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.
“It touches him, too,” he said, “He wants to get out, but to get out without having lost.”
Mr. Obama called for Mr. 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,” Mr. Obama 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.”
Mr. Putin’s statement was issued on the Kremlin website at 1:40 a.m. Monday on video, with analysts suggesting that the timing was aimed more at Washington than Russia. His usual swagger seemed absent; instead, he looked pasty and unsure.United States - North America - United States military - United States government - Russia - Eastern Europe - Europe - Barack Obama - Ukraine - Vladimir Putin - Russia government - Donetsk