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Kiev says Russia provoking trouble in eastern Ukraine

A barricade of tires and razor wire erected by pro-Russian protesters surrounds a government building in Donetsk, Ukraine.
A barricade of tires and razor wire erected by pro-Russian protesters surrounds a government building in Donetsk, Ukraine. ANDREY BASEVYCH / AP
A barricade of tires and razor wire erected by pro-Russian protesters surrounds a government building in Donetsk, Ukraine. Gallery: Kiev says Russia provoking trouble in eastern Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine - The Ukrainian government dispatched its highest-level police and security officials to the eastern part of the country Monday in an effort to put down separatist violence described as inspired by Russia and following a script that played out in Crimea.

"The plan is to destabilize the situation," Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told an emergency cabinet meeting Monday morning. "The plan is for foreign troops to cross the border and seize the country's territory, which we will not allow."

On Sunday, pro-Russian demonstrations in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk that had been orderly the last few weekends turned dangerous when crowds broke off and began to occupy government buildings in the three cities.

"Yesterday, a second wave of the Russian Federation's special operation against Ukraine started," Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, told the nation Monday in a televised address. "The goal is to . . . topple Ukrainian authorities, disrupt the elections, and to tear our country apart." He alleged that "enemies of Ukraine are trying to repeat the Crimean scenario," but he vowed that they would not succeed and that "an antiterrorist operation will take place against those who took up weapons."

Turchynov said those taking part in the violence were committing "a serious crime," and he warned that "we will act appropriately and decisively against the criminals."

In Donetsk, a group of people who broke into the regional administration building and spent the night there announced Monday that they were setting up a Donetsk People's Republic. They and others who occupied buildings in Kharkiv were demanding a Crimean-style referendum.

The situation in Kharkiv appeared particularly dangerous after pro-Ukrainians from Kiev reportedly headed to the city early Monday. Fights were breaking out on Kharkiv's main square Monday, local reporters said.

In Luhansk, police said some demonstrators entered the security services headquarters and seized guns. Police responded by setting up roadblocks around the city.

In a meeting with reporters Monday, Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia said the interior minister, the heads of the Security Service, the National Security Council, and a deputy prime minister had gone to eastern Ukraine to bring the situation under control.

"The response will be tough," he said, in contrast to what happened in Crimea. There, Russia sent in well-disciplined troops, in uniforms without insignia, who began to take over the peninsula by occupying the regional parliament building in Simferopol early on Feb. 27, the day the unprepared new government was taking office in Kiev following the ouster of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

"I want to address the citizens of eastern Ukraine," Yatsenyuk said. "It's obvious that the anti-Donetsk, anti-Kharkiv scenario is playing now. And all the troops still mass on Ukraine's border, but we won't let foreign troops enter Ukraine."

Russia denied that it was at fault.

"Stop pointing at Russia and blaming it for all of Ukraine's current misfortunes!" the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday in a statement on its website. "The Ukrainian people want Kiev to provide a coherent answer to all questions. . . . If the political forces who call themselves 'Ukrainian leadership' remain irresponsible toward the future of their country and toward the fate of their own people, Ukraine will continue running into new problems and crises."

Thousands of Russian troops have been camped along the eastern Ukrainian border for days, and officials in Kiev fear that Moscow has been promoting separatist sentiment and demonstrations so it could move across the frontier on the pretext of restoring order and protecting a largely Russian-speaking population. Russian officials deny they have any intention of invading Ukraine and say their troops are on routine maneuvers.

In Moscow, the head of the defense and security committee of the upper house of parliament said Russia could not send peacekeepers into Donetsk without approval from the United Nations Security Council, which is highly unlikely.

The Kiev government did not manage to organize any resistance to the Crimean takeover, which was backed by a Russian propaganda campaign that described Russian-speakers in the region as under threat from fascists who were on their way from Kiev to wreak havoc. In a quickly arranged referendum on March 16, Crimeans voted to join Russia, which promptly annexed the region.

"We call them political tourists," Deshchytsia said, describing the instigators of the violence in eastern Ukraine. He said the ringleaders cross the Russian border with eastern Ukraine and inspire separatist actions. "Most of these provocations were most likely done by political tourists. The number is lower than a few weeks ago, but they are more active now."

The new government in Kiev took over after Yanukovych fled Feb. 22. He was toppled by protesters who took to Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, in a demonstration that began in favor of European integration and turned into a demand for good government and a fight against corruption.

Kathy Lally and Will Englund Washington Post
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