8 Apr 2014

‘Hallmarks of Russia’: UK blames Moscow for Ukraine unrest

Britain accuses Russia of trying to “destabilise” Ukraine ahead of national elections, following the seizure of regional government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament on Tuesday that Moscow was behind pro-Russian protests in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, and was trying to make it harder for Ukraine to “operate as a democratic state”.

“There can be no justification for this action, which bears all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine,” he said.

“This is something we have to expect in the run-up to Ukrainian presidential elections on 25 May.”

His comments follow those made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei lavrov, who dismissed US suggestions that eastern Ukrainian unrest was part of a Russian plan.

“With regard to the question about who was preparing and who is preparing the events in Ukraine, our American partners are probably trying to analyse the situation attaching their own habits to others,” Mr Lavrov said.


On Tuesday, the Ukrainian authorities moved to end protests in Kharkiv – and launched an “anti-terrorist” operation, arresting 70 “separatists” who had seized the regional government headquarters.

On his Facebook page, Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said: “An anti-terrorist operation has been launched. The city centre is blocked along with metro stations. Do not worry. Once we finish, we will open them again.”

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine news agency that those detained were suspected of “illegal activity related to separatism, the organisation of mass disorder, damage to human health” and breaking other laws.

On Monday night, protesters set a fire on the steps of the regional administration building (see video, below). On Monday official buildings were also seized in Luhansk and in Donetsk – where protesters declared the city was a separate republic and called for a referendum on joining Russia.

Kiev has accused Russia of being behind the protest, calling the incidents “the Crimean scenario”.

However, the Russian foreign ministry has called on the Ukrainian government to stop any military action which it said was tasked with suppressing anti-government protest.

“We call for an immediate halt to military preparations which could lead to an outbreak of civil war,” the ministry said in a statement.

But Nato’s secretary general has urged Russia to “step back” from Russia’s border to avoid a “serious escalation”.

“Events in eastern Ukraine are a great concern, I urge Russia to step back,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “Any further move to eastern Ukraine would represent a serious escalation rather than de-escalation.”

He added that Russia had to pull back the “tens of thousands of troops” that had massed on Ukraine’s borders.