The US has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop "overtly or covertly" trying to destabilize Ukraine. In a bid to ease the crisis, the US and Russia have discussed holding a possible meeting with top diplomats.
The White House said Monday that it was concerned about "several escalatory" moves in eastern Ukraine over the weekend. Spokesman Jay Carney said the US was prepared to impose further sanctions, including targeting the Russian economy, if the situation continued to escalate.
"We are concerned about several escalatory moves in Ukraine at the weekend," Carney said. "We see them as the result of increasing Russian pressure on Ukraine."
Pro-Russian activists who seized a provincial building in Donetsk over the weekend on Monday announced the formation of the independent Donetsk People's Republic, along the Russian border. They also called for a referendum on the potential succession of the Donetsk region to be held no later than May 11, according to the Interfax news agency.
US, Russia discuss possible talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Monday that the US was watching the events unfolding in eastern Ukraine with great concern. He reiterated Washington's position that intentional efforts on the part of Russia to destabilize Ukraine would "incur further costs for Russia."
Kerry "called on Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs" in Ukraine, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The two also discussed possible talks between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union within the next 10 days "to try to de-escalate tensions," she added.
The Western-backed government in Kyiv said the recent events in the east were a replay of what happened in Crimea, where an incursion by Russian military forces into the peninsula culminated in its annexation by Moscow.
"We saw groups of pro-Russian demonstrators take over government buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk," Carney said. "There is strong evidence suggesting some of these demonstrators were paid and were not locals."
"If Russia moves into eastern Ukraine either overtly or covertly this would be a very serious escalation and would unleash new consequences from the West," he added. "We call on Putin and his government to cease efforts to destabilize Ukraine."
'Stop pointing the finger'
The Ukrainian government has vowed to quell the unrest, but Russia has warned of more "difficulties and crises" if Kyiv's leadership does not heed the "legitimate demands" of the people in Ukraine's Russian-speaking eastern regions.
Ukraine could not achieve long-term stability "without conducting a genuine constitutional reform" whereby "the interests of all the country's regions … would be ensured through federalization," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Stop pointing the finger at Russia, blaming it for all the problems in today's Ukraine," it added.
dr/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)