New York Times
MOSCOW - Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops expelled pro-Russian demonstrators from a regional administration building in Kharkiv early Tuesday, as the provisional government in Kiev moved to quell unrest in eastern Ukraine that the United States and its Western allies fear might lead to a Russian military invasion.
The successful operation in Kharkiv was announced by Ukraine's acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who had traveled to the city to supervise the action. He wrote on Facebook that the building was retaken "without firing a shot, grenades, or other special weapons," and that the troops were part of a broader redeployment in the region to contain unrest that Ukraine has accused Russia of orchestrating.
Pro-Russian demonstrators seized government buildings Sunday in several eastern cities, including Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk, posing a thorny challenge for the authorities in Kiev. Russian armed forces are deployed along the border nearby, and the Kremlin has warned that it is prepared to intervene again in Ukraine to protect the many ethnic Russians who live there, as it has in Crimea in the south.
The Ukrainian government and the United States have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest as a pretext for another Russian military incursion like the takeover of Crimea last month. Up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed along the Ukrainian border, according to NATO.
All the cities affected by the uprisings are in Ukraine's industrial heartland in the east, which has a large population of ethnic Russians and where hostility is strong toward the government that took power in February after the ouster of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.
European Union envoy Catherine Ashton said she will meet with U.S., Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers next week to discuss the situation - the first four-way meeting since the crisis erupted.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry threatened tougher economic sanctions against Moscow. "What we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry called the demonstrations in eastern Ukraine a "contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea."
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern statement in response to the use of Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops, accusing the Ukrainian government of embedding nationalist militants from the group Right Sector as well as private U.S. mercenaries in its forces in the east. The Russian statement said the U.S. contractors were being disguised as members of a Ukrainian military unit called Falcon.
The ministry, which has repeatedly denounced the government in Kiev as the illegitimate product of a coup, warned against the use of military force in eastern Ukraine. "We call immediately for the halt of any military preparations, which risk the outbreak of civil war," it said in its statement.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia would seek multinational talks on the Ukrainian political crisis that could involve the United States, the European Union and "all the political forces in Ukraine," which should include representatives of the southeastern region around Donetsk and Lugansk.
Avakov, the acting Ukrainian interior minister, portrayed the expulsion of the protesters in Kharkiv as a victory. "We, the new team in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, choose to guard the integrity and independence of Ukraine," he wrote on Facebook.
Ukrainian authorities were able to retake control of the headquarters of the security services in Donetsk, but remained in a standoff with the demonstrators occupying the regional administration building.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.