There are other signals that a change in the Kremlin line may be coming. In an interview with CNN on July 22, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said reports that the rebels in eastern Ukraine thought they had shot down a military aircraft around the same time that MH17 crashed suggested they weren’t really culpable. “According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet, so if it was [that they thought they] shot down a military jet, there was confusion,” Churkin said. “If there was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.”
Kolesnikov’s column has also provoked a bit of hand-wringing in the nationalist press. “Common people who read King Lear think that court jesters exist to tell the monarch the truth with a smile on their face,” Yegor Kholmogorov wrote in Vzglyad. “The truth is that they are used to tell lies in the monarch’s name. Andrei Kolesnikov is one such person who is close to Putin who set off a storm among journalists who are accustomed to seeing signals every time he sneezes.”
It’s too early to tell whether this was a trial balloon, a signal of a policy shift, or a court jester telling noble lies for the king. But the column’s timing, on the day when the European Union and the United States announced tough new sanctions against Russia’s financial and energy sectors, was certainly interesting.