Pro-Moscow protesters in eastern Ukraine seized arms in one city and declared a separatist republic in another, in moves Kiev described on Monday as part of a Russian-orchestrated plan to justify an invasion to dismember the country.
Kiev said the overnight seizure of public buildings in three cities in eastern Ukraine’s mainly Russian-speaking industrial heartland were a replay of events in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow seized and annexed last month.
“An anti-Ukrainian plan is being put into operation ... under which foreign troops will cross the border and seize the territory of the country,” Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said in public remarks to his cabinet. “We will not allow this.”
However, Russia called on Kiev to stop pointing the finger at Moscow after Ukraine’s interior minister accused President Vladimir Putin of orchestrating “separatist disorder” in the east and southeast of the former Soviet republic.
“Stop nodding at Russia, blaming all the troubles of today’s Ukraine on it,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Pro-Russian protesters seized official buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk on Sunday night, demanding that referendums be held on whether to join Russia like the one that preceded Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said Moscow was attempting to repeat “the Crimea scenario”. He added that “anti-terrorist measures” would be deployed against those who had taken up arms. Police said they cleared the protesters from the building in Kharkiv, but in Luhansk the demonstrators had seized weapons.
In Donetsk, home base of deposed Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich, about 120 pro-Russia activists calling themselves the “Republican People’s Soviet of Donetsk” seized the chamber of the regional assembly.
An unidentified bearded man read out “the act of the proclamation of an independent state, Donetsk People’s Republic” in front of a white, blue and red Russian flag.
“In the event of aggressive action from the illegitimate Kiev authorities, we will appeal to the Russian Federation to bring in a peacekeeping contingent,” ran the proclamation.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ecology and natural resources minister estimated that Kiev had lost natural resources and related assets worth $10.8 billion when Russia annexed the Crimea region. Andriy Mokhnyk told a news conference that Ukraine intended to go to court to try to recover the money, his spokeswoman confirmed.