Pro-Russian activists occupying a regional government building in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk have reportedly declared a ‘sovereign republic’.
Demonstrators seized official buildings in three eastern cities – Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk – on Sunday night, demanding referendums be held on whether to join Russia.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk says such protests are part of a plan to destabilise the country and bring in Russian troops.
As for Moscow’s push for broader regional autonomy in Ukraine, he told the cabinet in Kyiv that “deceptive calls for federalisation are an attempt to destroy the Ukrainian state” in a “scenario written by the Russian Federation”.
Yatsenyuk said that although much of the unrest had died down in eastern Ukraine in the past month, there remained about 1,500 “radicals” in each region who spoke with “clear Russian accents” and whose activity was being coordinated through foreign intelligence services.
But he said Ukrainian authorities had drawn up a plan to handle the crisis.
“We have a clear action plan,” he said, adding that senior officials would head to the towns concerned.
Ukraine’s pro-European, post-revolution authorities are determined not to lose more territory after the Russia-backed takeover of Crimea in March and then its annexation.
Yatsenyuk rejected claims that Russia has pulled back some of the thousands of troops it has massed on the frontier.
It is “just them pretending,” he said. “In fact, their troops are now 30 kilometres away from the Ukrainian border.”
As he spoke, the Defence Ministry in Kyiv said a Ukrainian naval officer had been shot dead by a Russian marine in Crimea.
The exact circumstances are being investigated but the fatality can only further fuel already high tension between the two countries.