Sometimes it's a good idea to pay attention to what Andrei Kolesnikov writes.
The Kommersant columnist is one of the Kremlin's anointed court scribes and is often described as President Vladimir Putin's favorite journalist. Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin, recently wrote that the Russian president "pays particular attention" to Kolesnikov's columns, which he enjoys "greatly and always reads right to the end."
Kolesnikov regularly travels with Putin and is often a conduit for messages from the regime's inner sanctum to the broader elite. It was in an interview with Kolesnikov in the summer of 2010, on an epic road trip across the Russian Far East in a bright-yellow Lada, that Putin strongly hinted that he intended to return to the presidency in 2012 and that pro-democracy protesters should be beaten. Both of these things, of course, happened.
So it didn't go unnoticed when Kolesnikov wrote on July 29 that Putin was prepared to wash his hands of the separatists in eastern Ukraine if they were indeed proven to be responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Kolesnikov's argument should by no means be taken at face value. Who really believes that Putin is suddenly shocked that the separatists he has been sponsoring could have shot down a civilian airliner? And does anybody really believe civilian deaths are a red line he will never cross? "If at some point it becomes evident that the insurgents had some connection to this, that would radically change [Putin's] attitude toward them—even if it was a fatal mistake," Kolesnikov wrote. "Children who died for nothing, as well as adults and elderly people, this is a red line he will not cross. He will not cover up for those who did this if he knows they did it. He will not have this sin on his soul."