John Kerry, the US Secretary of StateRussia sending spies to eastern Ukraine to provide a pretext for a possible Crimea-style military intervention, John Kerry claims, telegraph.co.uk reports.
The United States has accused Russia of sending spies into eastern Ukraine to "create chaos" and provide a pretext for a possible Crimea style military intervention.
In Washington's strongest comments to date, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, described a series of pro-Russian building seizures in eastern cities as an "illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilise a sovereign state", funded by the Russian special services.
"Everything that we've seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they've been sent there determined to create chaos," Mr Kerry said in Washington.
"No one should be fooled – and believe me, no one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalysts behind the chaos of the last 24 hours," he added.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, backed America's message by stating the flare-up bore "all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine", while Nato warned Russia that any further intervention would be a "historic mistake".
Ukrainian forces on the ground were battling to seize control of key cities in the east on Tuesday night after Pro-Russian separatists had seized control of government buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv on Sunday.
Activists in Donetsk and Kharkiv both declared independent "people's republics" on Monday, in moves that echoed events in Crimea in the run-up to the Russian annexation of the Black Sea peninsula last month.
Deputies clash during a session of the parliament in Kiev (Valentyn Ogirenko/ Reuters)
Ukrainian police and interior ministry special forces evicted protesters from the Kharkiv regional administration on Tuesday in a bloodless dawn raid, arresting about 70 people.
But by nightfall separatists still held the regional administration building in Donetsk and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) building in Luhansk, both of which have been fortified with barricades.
The SBU claimed on Tueday night that militants in Luhansk were holding 60 people hostage in a government building that had been rigged with explosives.
Activists in Luhansk have reportedly armed themselves with Kalashnikov assault rifles from the SBU's armoury.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that he and Mr Kerry had agreed to four way talks between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union in coming days.
The EU confirmed the meeting will take place and will involve US Secretary of State John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia.
Separately, an EU diplomat said the EU plans to set up a special support group to help Ukraine stabilise its precarious economy and political situation.
“[Baroness Ashton] continues the diplomatic efforts aiming at de-escalating the situation in Ukraine. In this context she will meet foreign ministers of the US, Russian Federation and Ukraine next week,” her spokeswoman said.
Further details of the meeting, which will be held at an unspecified location in Europe, are still being worked on. In the meantime Kiev is positioning for a crackdown on the pro-Russian uprisings.
In an emergency session, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill significantly increasing punishments for separatism in response to the events on Tuesday. Fistfights broke out in the chamber between nationalist and pro-Kremlin MPs.
The Ukrainian security services are walking a tightrope between the perceived need for a forceful response and fears of providing a pretext for Russian intervention.
Arsen Avakov, the acting interior minister who personally directed the operation in Kharkiv, has said he has given orders to avoid violence and to clear buildings without bloodshed. He insisted that Tuesday's raid was completed with "not one shot, stun grenade or other special equipment [being used]".
Questions have also arisen about the loyalty of police and troops and the level of Russian penetration into the SBU in Ukraine's eastern provinces.
Mr Avakov said much police behaviour in Kharkiv during the two days he commanded operations there "resembled sabotage more than service," and warned that both commanders and rank and file officers may be fired over disloyalty.
One uniformed border guard told a Telegraph reporter who crossed into Ukraine from Russia on Tuesday morning that his loyalties lay on the other side of the frontier.
"We're all from Russia, the Russians are our brothers," the man said, unprompted. "We want nothing to do with those Banderisti from the west," he said, referring to a Second World War era nationalist movement lionised by many in western Ukraine but viewed in Russia as Nazi collaborators.
Pro-Russian protesters who remained on the square outside the Kharkiv regional administration on Tuesday called the accusations of separatism and Russian funding a smear campaign.
"The government is packed with people from the west who have no understanding and no concern about our lives and economic situation, and they are dictating to us how to live" said Alexander Pisachov, 50, a small businessman who sells hats.
Another confessed that unification with Russia was a "secret dream".
"Sure, I'd like to live in a single state with Russia, but it is politically impossible," said a man who declined to give his name.
Inside the regional administration building, local government employees and cleaning staff picking through the tires, cobblestones and broken glass left behind by the brief occupation were left unimpressed.
"I'm not going to comment on their aims," said one employee of the regional health department clearing her office on the fourth floor. "But honestly. If you're going to steal our computers please, just take them. Why do you have to throw our pot plants on the floor too?"
The USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, entered the Black Sea on Tuesday – a move that was announced last week.