Russia warns use of force could tip Ukraine into 'civil war'

Russia warns use of force could tip Ukraine into 'civil war'

Russia warns use of force could tip Ukraine into civil war

Pro-Russian activists who seized the main administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk deploy a flag of the so-called Donetsk Republic and hold a Russian flag, April 7. AFP Photo

Russia on April 8 warned Kiev that any use of force in Ukraine's east, where pro-Kremlin militants have seized government buildings in several cities, could tip the country into civil war.

"We call for the immediate cessation of any military preparations, which are fraught with the risk of unleashing civil war," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The warning came after pro-Russia activists seized state buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Lugansk and Donetsk, where they also declared independence and vowed to vote on joining Russia.

Kiev accused Russia of fomenting the unrest and Washington warned the Kremlin to stop efforts to "destabilise Ukraine," accusations that Moscow brushed off.

The Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had information that Ukraine was sending internal security forces and volunteers from its National Guard including fighters from Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) ultra-nationalist group, to southeastern Ukraine including Donetsk.

It also alleged that Ukraine was deploying U.S. private security operatives dressed as Ukrainian special forces. It said the mercenaries came from the Greystone Ltd security firm.

It said Ukraine had tasked the forces with "suppression using force of the residents of the southeast of the country against the policies of the current Kiev authorities." 

"The organisers and participants in this provocation are taking on a huge responsibility for creating a threat to the rights, freedoms and lives of peaceful Ukrainian citizens and to the stability of the Ukrainian state" it warned.

The ministry released the statement on its website following talks late April 7 between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsya.

The ministry said in a statement that Lavrov stressed the "necessity of a respectful attitude to the aspirations of the inhabitants of southeastern Ukraine." 

Lavrov called for Kiev to take "urgent measures" to organise a national dialogue, saying it was ready to "support this process along with the European Union and the United States."

Washington warns Moscow of costs

Russia's warning came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Lavrov that Washington was watching events in eastern Ukraine with great concern and any moves by Moscow to destabilize Ukraine would "incur further costs for Russia."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that in the telephone call Kerry "called on Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs" in Ukraine.

She said the two discussed convening direct talks in the next 10 days between Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union to defuse tensions.

Kerry noted that the actions in eastern Ukraine "do not appear to be a spontaneous set of events," the spokeswoman said.

She said Kerry "noted the Ukrainian government's assertion that this appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign with Russian support," and said he referred to "the recent arrests of Russian intelligence operatives working in Ukraine."

The secretary called on Russia "to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs, called for de-escalation and dialogue and called on all parties to refrain from agitation in Ukraine," she said.

"He made clear that any further Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine will incur further costs for Russia," Psaki said