Saturday, July 19, 2014

Disaster Clouds Putin's Strategy for Ukraine

By James Marson and Alan Cullison, WSJ
July 18, 2014 9:27 p.m. ET

MOSCOW—The downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight is a major setback to Russian President Vladimir Putin's carefully balanced Ukraine strategy of making efforts to appear publicly hands-off amid allegations that Russia was providing armor and weapons to help rebels hold off Ukrainian forces.

That approach helped head off tougher sanctions from the West, but looks harder to maintain amid claims that Moscow has placed sophisticated arms in the hands of fighters not fully under Kremlin control and may even have provided the expertise to use those weapons.

Now, Western leaders are pressing for a real cease-fire and for Russia to seal off the border, both of which would be bad news for the rebels and an increasingly isolated Mr. Putin. Russia also has called for an immediate cease-fire and an investigation while saying nothing about sealing the border. (Follow live updates on the Malaysia Airlines disaster.)

But Mr. Putin also was defiant Friday, showing no sign of backing away from separatists. Instead he blamed Kiev for downing Flight 17, saying Ukraine's military operation created the grounds for the incident. He reiterated calls for a negotiated solution to the three-month conflict, a move that could freeze the situation on the ground and give Russia the leverage it needs to halt Kiev's tilt westward.

(More here.)

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