Pro-Kremlin demonstrators rally in front of a regional security service building in Lugansk, Ukraine, on April 6, 2014.
Pro-Kremlin demonstrators seized official buildings in Ukraine’s east and called for the regions to join Russia as the government in Kiev accused President Vladimir Putin of stoking separatist unrest.
Protesters with Russian flags stormed administration offices in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, calling for a boycott of the May 25 presidential election. A group temporarily seized offices in Kharkiv before the building was freed. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia’s government was trying to split up Ukraine.
“The aim of this scenario is to divide Ukraine into parts and to turn part of Ukraine into a territory of slavery under a Russian dictatorship,” Yatsenyuk said today in televised remarks in Kiev.
The demonstrations echoed the actions of pro-Moscow protesters who stormed Crimea’s assembly and paved the way for Russia to annex the province last month. Putin says he has the right to defend Russian speakers from attack by Russophobes in Ukraine, while in Kiev, officials say Russia has sent agents to foment unrest and justify carving off more of the country since the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych.
The U.S. and its European allies have slapped sanctions on members of Putin’s inner circle and urged his government to withdraw thousands of troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border in the worst standoff since the Cold War.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, canceled a trip to Lithuania and convened a special meeting of law enforcement officials, according to the website of the Ukrainian parliament.
Putin’s takeover of Crimea and the persistent turmoil in the rest of Ukraine has rattled markets. The Micex stock index fell 1.5 percent to 1,362.34 at 10:12 a.m. in Moscow and is down 10 percent this year. The yield on Russia’s 2030 dollar bond rose 6 basis points to 4.56 percent.
The unrest was initiated by “armed provocateurs,” Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian UDAR party, said in a statement on his website. Billionaire lawmaker Petro Poroshenko, the country’s leading presidential candidate, told Hromadske Radio today that moves to destabilize Ukraine’s eastern regions are aimed at disrupting next month’s elections.
About 300 pro-Russian activists took over the regional government office in Kharkiv, demanding the local authorities carry out a referendum on federalization, according to the Ukrainska Pravda website. Later, the building was “fully freed,” according to a post on Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s Facebook page.
Some 200 people seized the governor’s office in Donetsk, Alla Konyk, a spokeswoman for the regional prosecutor’s office, said in remarks televised by Ukraine’s privately held Channel 5. Three people, including a policeman, were injured in Luhansk during the storming of regional directorate of Ukraine’s security service, the channel reported.
The separatists in Donetsk will name a new council staff, online newswire Ostrov reported. They said they would dissolve the region’s parliament and vote for a referendum to give Donetsk “self-determination.”
In Luhansk, unidentified people took over a security service building and seized weapons, news service Interfax reported, citing police. Officials have closed the roads into Luhansk and police began investigations in each of the three cities where the unrest was unfolding.
Yatsenyuk has accused Putin of plotting to invade its eastern regions and has vowed military retaliation if Russian troops cross the border. Russia has as many as 40,000 soldiers stationed across the frontier on main arteries leading to large Ukrainian cities, according to officials from the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Putin says the forces are conducting military exercises and will withdraw when they end.