U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia on Tuesday of sending its agents into eastern Ukraine to “create chaos,” saying Moscow could be trying to lay the groundwork for military action like in Crimea.
“Everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours, from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine, tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos,” Kerry told U.S. lawmakers.
He described the efforts as “illegal, illegitimate,” and “absolutely unacceptable,” saying Moscow was seeking to further destabilize neighboring Ukraine by engaging in separatist activity.
“It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours,” Kerry told lawmakers, adding this “could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea.”
The White House on Monday warned Russia’s President Vladimir Putin against moving either “overtly or covertly” into eastern Ukraine, saying it was concerned about “several escalatory” moves over the weekend.
“We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine and we caution against further military intervention,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, according to Reuters.
He warned that any move into eastern Ukraine by Russian forces would be regarded as “a serious escalation and would unleash new consequences from the West,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Ukraine’s acting president has said that he would treat Russian separatists who have seized buildings in the east of the country as “terrorists” who will be prosecuted with the full force of the law.
“The authorities will treat separatists and terrorists who have picked up automatic weapons, who are seizing buildings, in accordance with the constitution and the law -- as terrorists and criminals,” acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told a parliament meeting.
Ukraine has launched an “anti-terrorist” operation southeast the country and has arrested 70 “separatists” accused of seizing a government building, the country’s interior minister said Tuesday.
Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page: “An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. The city centre is blocked along with metro stations. Do not worry. Once we finish, we will open them again.”
He was quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency saying that those detained were suspected of “illegal activity related to separatism, the organization of mass disorder, damage to human health” and breaking other laws.
Pro-Russian protesters seized official buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk on Sunday night, demanding that referendums be held on whether to join Russia like the one that preceded Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.