The White House warned Moscow not to act on the protests in east Ukraine and Secretary of State John Kerry said he will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union.
Early Monday morning, protesters in Donetsk announced the region is now known as the Donetsk People’s Republic. They said the area will hold a referendum on May 11 similar to the one held in Crimea on March 16. Moscow officially annexed Crimea from Ukraine on March 21. From Reuters:
“We saw groups of pro-Russian demonstrators take over government buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “There is strong evidence suggesting some of these demonstrators were paid and were not local residents.
“If Russia moves into eastern Ukraine either overtly or covertly this would be a very serious escalation. We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine and we caution against further military intervention,” Carney said.
“The president and his team will continue to assess Russia’s actions and whether or not to impose those further sanctions,” Carney said. “We also have the authorities to impose further sanctions for the transgressions already made by Russia when it comes to Crimea.”
Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavron on the phone to discuss the issue in east Ukraine. The men have spoken to each other on an almost regular basis since Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted on February 22. Kerry told Lavrov that Russia will face more “costs” if Moscow decides to intervene.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that in the telephone call Kerry “called on Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs” in Ukraine.
She said the two discussed convening direct talks in the next 10 days between Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union to defuse tensions.
Kerry noted that the actions in eastern Ukraine “do not appear to be a spontaneous set of events,” the spokeswoman said.
She said Kerry “noted the Ukrainian government’s assertion that this appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign with Russian support,” and said he referred to “the recent arrests of Russian intelligence operatives working in Ukraine.”
The Kyiv Post noted a phone call revealed the actions in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv were orchestrated by the same center.
After Moscow annexed Crimea, President Obama passed harsh sanctions against men in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and his preferred bank.