WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used his White House bully pulpit to call for greater international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, following the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner over Ukraine.
The shoot-down was a “tragedy of unspeakable proportions,” he said.
He confirmed that the surface-to-air missile that downed the plane came from a Ukrainian region controlled by separatists supported by Russia, and he pressed Russia to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine.
“Violence and conflict inevitably leads to unforeseen consequences,” he said. “The United States is going to continue to lead efforts in the world community to deescalate the situation.”
Obama also urged all sides to abide by an immediate cease-fire to allow for an international investigation.
But he gave no indication he would provide military aid or advice to the Ukraine’s embattled military, and he didn’t announce any strategy to rally international opposition to Russia.
“This certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences for an escalating conflict in the Ukraine,” he said, using the passive voice.
His language suggested that he doesn’t want the U.S. to take a leading position. “This was a global strategy — an Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies [carrying] citizens of many countries,” he said.
Instead, he minimized the role for the U.S.
“Our preferred path is to resolve this diplomatically. … We don’t see a U.S. military role,” he said toward the end of his brief midday press conference.
However, he opened the press conference with much stronger language.
“Men, women, children, infants who had nothing to do the war crisis in Ukraine, their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions,” he said.
This combination of aggressive rhetoric and passive action reflects the president’s post-2011 caution in international affairs, and his reliance on rhetoric over action.
The domestic pressure for action is also limited, with the public more concerned about domestic issues.
Obama confirmed that one American was killed in the attack.
“We know of at least one American … [who] was killed,” he said. “Our prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.”