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Monday, July 21, 2014

Kremlin Official: “Mr Putin is being told that the only way he can avert the accusations is to publicly disown the militias in eastern Ukraine. That is unacceptable.”


Three days after MH17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, the Russian government has done very little to counter western accusations that it is at least partially to blame for the deadly crash.

While foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told his US counterpart John Kerry on Saturday that Moscow would use its influence on the rebels to work towards a ceasefire – in a rare admission that this influence exists – indications were mounting that Moscow was at the same time obstructing just that.

“They have said some of the things they know we want to hear, but that is about all they’ve done,” said a European diplomat in Moscow. “Their words don’t match their actions, and that’s a problem we’ve had throughout this crisis.”
In the eyes of the Russian government, Moscow has little choice. Officials said western governments and media had jumped to conclusions and targeted Russian president Vladimir Putin over the crash without any evidence.
“We are embroiled in an entirely politicised blame game, and meanwhile there’s a hidden race under way over who will get the black boxes,” said one foreign policy official. “Mr Putin is being told that the only way he can avert the accusations is to publicly disown the militias in eastern Ukraine. That is unacceptable.”

As a result, Moscow is adopting delaying tactics. The government has repeatedly called for an impartial investigation of the crash. However, its definition of what constitutes impartiality diverges from that of several other countries with a stake in the disaster. 

But Russian officials doubt the impartiality of the Ukrainian government in such an investigation – misgivings echoed by pro-Russia separatist leaders. Moscow is therefore pushing for other bodies to be involved. It has also offered experts from its health and emergency ministries to assist at the crash site.

“Given Moscow’s ambiguous stance towards the rebel forces, there is reason to suspect that they’d follow up on this offer and send some people to work with the rebels,” said the European diplomat.

Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security services at New York University, said it was likely that members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, together with air force experts trained in recognising the relevant parts of the debris, had been at the site already.

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