Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov conceded Wednesday that police have lost control of the eastern towns and cities occupied by pro-Russia gunmen, and he ordered a full military alert to prevent the separatist disruptions from spreading.
At a meeting of regional government leaders, Turchinov blamed the erosion of government authority in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on a Kremlin plot to destabilize Ukraine and seize more of its territory, as it did in annexing Crimea last month.
"The first task that we are facing is to prevent the spreading of the terrorist threat to other regions of Ukraine," Turchinov was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine as saying at the meeting in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
Turchinov accused Moscow of having already sent "instructions" to its proxy forces in eastern Ukraine to take control of the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv and Odessa regions, which would provide a Russian-controlled corridor to Crimea, Black Sea ports and Moldova's Russian-speaking Transdnistria enclave.
In a further sign of mounting tensions between Russia and its former Soviet neighbors, the Russian military ordered a new airborne unit to begin helicopter training missions along the western borders with the now-independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The maneuvers were called in response to an "unprecedented" increase in NATO military activity near Russia amid the Ukrainian crisis, the RIA Novosti news agency said, attributing the comments to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
NATO last week ordered stepped-up air patrols of its member states bordering Russia, to reassure allies once under Moscow's domination that the alliance will defend them in the event of Russian aggression.