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Putin vows to press rebels, help MH17 crash probe  

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged on Tuesday to do everything possible to influence pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and help ensure a full probe into the Malaysia Airlines crash last week.

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged on Tuesday to do everything possible to influence pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and help ensure a full probe into the Malaysia Airlines crash last week.

However he added that it would not be enough without at least a temporary ceasefire by Kiev to allow investigators to work, blamed the West for destabilising Ukraine and warned that similar attempts will fail with Russia.

"Russia will do everything in its power for a full, comprehensive, deep, and transparent investigation" into the loss last week of flight MH17 with 298 people on board, Putin told a meeting of the national security council broadcast by Russian state television.

Russia supported Monday a UN resolution on an international probe into the crash of the Boeing 777, and the pro-Russian separatists have now handed over the flight recorders and many of the remains.

"We are asked to exert influence on the militants of the south-east (of Ukraine). Of course we will do everything in our power.

"However this would be absolutely inadequate" given fresh attacks by Ukrainian troops, said Putin.

Ukrainian forces and separatists clashed Monday and Tuesday in the outskirts of Donetsk, which the Russian president said had hampered the work of investigators.

Ukrainian "authorities must be called upon to abide by elementary decency, to introduce a ceasefire, at least for a short time for the investigation," Putin said.

While apparently softening his stance on Ukraine, Putin talked tough concerning the West and NATO, denouncing "ultimatums" and vowing to increase the military presence on Russia's borders.

"Russia is practically presented with ultimatums - either let us eliminate part of the population culturally and ethnically close to Russia or we will impose sanctions," he said, calling it "strange logic".

Putin has argued that politicians who have come to power in Kiev after protests ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych persecute Russian speakers in the east and Crimea and vowed to protect them, eventually annexing the Crimean peninsula despite Western outrage.

The remarks demonstrate Putin is attempting to both appease the West and domestic public opinion, said Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies.

"It's a very difficult dilemma," Makarkin said. "He cannot massively support the militants but he can't reject them."

Completely rejecting the West, on the other hand, will lead to detrimental sanctions. "He cannot bang his fist on the table since the Russian economy is too weak. So he'll continue to maneuvre."

As he promised to collaborate on the probe, Putin also warned the West from meddling in Russia's domestic affairs the same way as in Ukraine, where Moscow believes the West, particularly the United States, helped organise a coup bringing anti-Russian nationalists to power.

"Of course direct actions like that would not work with Russia. Recipes that work with weak, failing countries plagued by internal contradictions and conflict will not work with us," he said.

Attempts to destabilise Russia are ongoing both economically and politically, he said, pointing the finger of blame to "modern information technology and dependent, obedient non-governmental organisations and instruments of soft power".

"We have to react to these challenges," he said.

Militarily, "Russia will respond proportionately as NATO's military infrastructure is getting closer to Russian borders," Putin said

The Kremlin over the past two years has overseen an incremental crackdown on dissent, marginalising non-governmental organisations with foreign funding, imprisoning protesters, and tightening control over the Internet.

On Tuesday Putin signed a law requiring Internet companies to keep databases in Russia -- a measure observers linked to the Kremlin's attempt to control social networks -- and a new law that further criminalises protests, introducing punishments of up to five years to people who participate in more than two unsanctioned meetings.

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