U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian special operations forces of beingbehind the recent “chaos” in eastern Ukrainewhere mysterious, masked pro-Russian gunmen have been occupying government buildings at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
“It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours,” Kerry said.
Kerry went on to say these covert operations were an effort by Russia to create a “contrived pretext for military intervention, just as we saw in Crimea.” He said it was clear Russia has been trying to stir up action in Ukraine with the intention to destabilize the country and hinted the U.S. could impose additional sanctions aimed at Russian energy, mining, and banking sectors.
Over the past two days, pro-Russian demonstrators have seized government buildings in at least three eastern Ukrainian cities — Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv.
Acting Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov said Monday that the action in the three cities of eastern Ukraine indicates Russia was “playing out the Crimea scenario.”
The demonstrators occupying a regional government building in Donetsk called for a referendum on secession by May 11. Ukrainian authorities have cracked down on the protests, and police have reportedly detained at least 70 people in connection with the uprisings.
Russia has responded by expressing concern about the crackdown on the pro-Russian protests. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the situation can only improve if the interests of Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine are taken into account. Russia cited similar reasons — protecting the interests of Russian speakers — to justify its intervention in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which later voted to secede from Ukraine. Since then, Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops along the Ukrainian border.
The U.S. and the West have not recognised the Crimean referendum as legitimate. President Barack Obama last month announced two rounds of sanctions on Russian officials in response to the events in Crimea.
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