Nato warned Russia on Tuesday against making an “historic mistake” by provoking a flaring secession crisis in eastern Ukraine that Moscow itself conceded could degenerate into a civil war.
Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen reaffirmed on a visit to Paris that Moscow, which has massed troops along its border with Ukraine, would be making an “historic mistake” if it were to intervene in Ukraine any further. “It would have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia and it would further isolate Russia internationally,” said the Western military alliance leader.
Ukraine’s embattled interim leaders have been waging an uphill battle to keep their culturally splintered nation of 46 million together after last month’s ouster of a pro-Kremlin regime and subsequent loss of Crimea to Russia.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian agents and special forces of stirring separatist unrest in eastern Ukraine, saying Moscow could be trying to prepare for military action as it had in Crimea.
Armed pro-Moscow protesters were still occupying Ukrainian government buildings in two cities in the largely Russian-speaking east on Tuesday, although police ended a third occupation in a lightning night-time operation.
“It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours,” Kerry said.
Later on Tuesday, Ukrainian police detained 70 pro-Moscow protesters occupying a regional administration building in eastern Ukraine overnight, but others held out in a standoff in two further cities in what Kiev also said is a Russian-led plan to dismember the country.