NEW: Police, protesters battle in Kharkov
Bloodless raid retakes Donetsk headquarters, government says
Russia trying to "dismember" Ukraine, acting President says
Quit blaming us and listen to your people, Moscow tells Kiev
Ukrainian special forces moved against pro-Russian demonstrators in the eastern city of Donetsk late Monday after the country’s acting President vowed to resist efforts to “dismember” his country, his office reported.
The troops cleared armed protesters from the headquarters of Ukrainian security services in Donetsk, one of three cities where pro-Moscow uprisings took place over the weekend, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov’s office announced Monday night. There were no casualties in the operation, Victoria Sumar, deputy secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, told reporters.
Police battled protesters in one of the other two cities, while authorities set up a committee to negotiate with a self-declared “army” in the third.
The reports came several hours after Turchynov blamed “separatist groups coordinated by Russian special services” for the revolts, which he said echoed events leading to the Russian annexation of Crimea three weeks ago.
“Enemies of Ukraine are trying to play out the Crimean scenario, but we will not let this happen,” Turchynov said in a televised message.
Pro-Moscow protesters seized government buildings, raised Russian flags and declared new governments in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkov on Sunday. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the goal of the protesters was “to destabilize” Ukraine, allowing “foreign troops to cross the border and seize the territory of the country.”
“We will not allow it,” Yatsenyuk said.
Russia, which has an estimated tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border, said it was “watching closely” and told Ukraine to quit blaming it for Ukrainian problems. President Vladimir Putin’s government pushed Ukraine to set up a federal system in which regions with ethnic Russian majorities would have more autonomy, and its foreign ministry urged Ukraine to enter into talks over the issue.
“Ukrainian people want to get a clear answer from Kiev to all their questions. It’s time to listen to these legal claims,” a Foreign Ministry statement read. The Ukrainian government was acting “irresponsibly,” it said.
But in Washington, U.S. officials urged Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to disavow the protests and warned further Russian intervention in Ukraine would bring stiffer economic sanctions than those already imposed over the Crimean annexation.
“If Russia moves into eastern Ukraine, either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine. And we caution against further military intervention.”
In Donetsk, demonstrators took over a regional administrative building in the mining city on Sunday. Russia’s state-run ITAR-Tass news agency reported that a self-proclaimed legislature, representing what it called the Donetsk People’s Republic, had called a May 11 referendum on whether the area should join Russia.
The Russian news agency also said the Donetsk group asked Putin to send a “temporary peacekeeping contingent.” The report could not immediately be independently verified.
Protesters also seized the regional administrative building in Kharkov on Sunday. Ukrainian Interior Minister A