U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Russian agents have been sent to eastern Ukraine to create "chaos." Kerry also said that Russia\’s actions in eastern Ukraine could be a contrived pretext for military intervention just like in Crimea.
Kerry on told US Congress on Tuesday that the Kremlin was seeking to "create chaos" in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk as a pretext for more military intervention.
"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 said, adding that he would meet next week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the crisis.
Ukraine has launched an "anti-terrorist" operation in the southeastern city of Kharkiv and has arrested about 70 "separatists" for seizing the regional administration building, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has said.
Avakov posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday: "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."
Ukraine\’s Interior Ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine news agency that those detained were suspected of "illegal activity related to separatism, the organisation of mass disorder, damage to human health" and breaking other laws.
Turchynov said those who seized the buildings would be treated as "terrorists and criminals" who would be prosecuted with the full force of the law.
Rebels occupying Donetsk\’s regional government building on Monday declared a "people\’s republic" and called for a referendum on secession from Ukraine to be held by 11 May.
There have been talks overnight in Donetsk between the authorities and pro-Russian activists who had occupied the regional administration building.
On Tuesday, Russia warned Ukraine to stop any military preparations, with the Russian foreign ministry saying in a statement that such preparations risked causing a civil war.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the southeastern parts of Ukraine should be included in talks about the country\’s future.
He told reporters Tuesday in Moscow that Russia wants to see those regions, which are largely Russian-speaking, represented in multilateral talks.
Russia recently annexed the peninsula of Crimea following a referendum.
In Paris, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that further Russian intervention in Ukraine would be a "historic mistake" that would further isolate Russia from the world.
Also Tuesday, Russia\’s foreign ministry called on Ukraine to halt what it called military preparations in the southeast that could lead to civil war.
Pro-Russian demonstrators took over buildings Sunday in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are demanding referendums on splitting with Ukraine — the same kind of vote that took place last month in Crimea.
The White House says it has evidence that some of the protesters are not local Russian-speakers but were brought in from elsewhere and paid to start trouble.
The US and the EU have already imposed targeted sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian individuals over the annexation of Crimea.
On Monday, pro-Russian protesters occupying a regional administration building in Donetsk declared the creation of a "people\’s republic" separate from Ukraine.
"In the event of aggressive action from the illegitimate Kiev authorities, we will appeal to the Russian Federation to bring in a peacekeeping contingent," said the proclamation, voiced by an unidentified protester.
The activists later read the text to a cheering crowd of about 1,000 people outside the building.
Police in Luhansk also said protesters occupying the state security building there had seized weapons.
Russia said the Ukrainian government should stop blaming Russia for its problems.
Russia is refusing to recognise the new authorities in Kiev who took power after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February.
Eastern Ukraine was the political heartland of Yanukovych and has a large Russian-speaking population.
Yanukovych fled Kiev for Russia after months of street protests triggered by his refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. More than 100 people died in the ensuing unrest.