HORLIVKA, Ukraine — Russia warned Wednesday that it was prepared to retaliate against any attack on its citizens or interests in Ukraine, as the Kiev government resumed military operations against pro-Russian militants in the eastern part of the country.
The escalation came as U.S. paratroopers landed in Poland to begin training exercises intended as a sign of support for American allies in the region.
"If we are attacked, we would certainly respond," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow in an interview with the RT television network, recalling the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, when Moscow acted to protect pro-Russian secessionists in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.
"If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians, have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia, for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law."
"Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation," Lavrov said. He also accused the United States of directing the actions of the Ukrainian government in a "hands-on manner," noting that Ukraine had ordered Wednesday's military action only after a Tuesday visit from Vice President Joe Biden.
The declaration from Lavrov — which echoes warnings given by the Russian government before Moscow's annexation of Crimea last month — followed the discovery in eastern Ukraine of the body of a local politician who supported Ukrainian unity. He had been tortured and dumped in a river after being kidnapped last week, Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday.
"The terrorists who effectively took the whole Donetsk region hostage have now gone too far," Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said after officials identified the stabbed and bruised body of Volodymyr Rybak. His corpse and that of another man — so far unidentified — were found Saturday near Slovyansk, a city that international observers say is controlled by armed pro-Russian activists.
"These crimes are being committed with the full support and connivance of the Russian Federation," Turchynov said.