The horrific downing of a Malaysia Airlines commercial jetliner over Ukraine last week -- most likely from a surface-to-air missile launched by Russian separatists -- has put Russian President Vladimir Putin in a desperate bind. And that could be the only good thing to come out of this grotesque tragedy.
Putin wants a way out without appearing culpable or weak, but the world must demand accountability.
He is trying to distance himself and his nation from the separatist group, even after spending months engaged in a public campaign throughout Russia championing their cause and justifying the need for Russian troops to help them in eastern Ukraine.
Despite Putin's hollow claims, world outrage toward Russia has intensified as evidence mounts that it does indeed have culpability.
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 which he again called for an international investigation of the crash.
The video showed a much different Putin than we have come to know. His demeanor was less arrogant and seemed hesitant, almost uncertain. He did not look squarely into the camera, as is his style.
Clearly, timing of the video's release indicates it was not meant so much for Russian consumption as it was for the rest of the world.
It was a feeble and unsuccessful attempt to forestall even further sanctions against Russia by Western nations all stemming from the battle for Ukraine. Once an integral part of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state again when the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.
Much of Ukraine has been tilting westward, but Russia wants it to remain part of its sphere of influence. The population in eastern Ukraine, which is on the Russian border, seems more inclined to do that, while the western portions of the nation are gravitating toward the European Union.
The disingenuousness of Putin's conciliatory video was revealed when two high-ranking Russian military officers held a news conference in which they demanded that the U.S. release any evidence Russia had been involved in any way. They even went so far as to suggest that the U.S. and the Ukrainian army had conspired in the attack and suggested that the real target might have been a plane carrying Putin that was in the area at the time. Oh, please.
The U.S. and Europe must stand united against this abomination. We must demand public answers. If ever there was a time to effectively alter Putin's aggressive behavior, this is it. Trying to ensure this never happens again is the only way we can see to truly honor the victims and their families.