Ukraine crisis: Russia accused of destabilising its neighbour after three government buildings are seized across the country

William Hague and John Kerry use strongest language yet and threaten tough sanctions, while EU plans for possible energy cut-off

Britain and the United States have issued a tough ultimatum to Russia to keep its troops out of eastern Ukraine or face debilitating sanctions, unequivocally blaming Moscow for the fresh separatist unrest in three cities that has tipped Ukraine back into crisis.

The storming by pro-Russian demonstrators of state buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv late on Sunday revived fears in Kiev and western capitals that Moscow may have designs on Ukrainian territory beyond Crimea, annexed last month. That sparked international outcry, a round of mild US and European Union sanctions, and warnings of tougher measures to come if Russia further destabilised its neighbour.

In eastern Ukraine, police moved in to try to clear the hundreds of demonstrators occupying buildings in the cities, despite ominous warnings from Moscow that authorities must not use any force against ethnic Russian protesters. Ukraine’s state security service claimed separatists rigged one building with explosives and were holding 60 people hostage.

Russian government officials have denied any link to the unrest of the past few days, but the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, accused the Kremlin of “an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilise a sovereign state”.

“It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours,” Mr Kerry told a Senate panel, adding that this “could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea”. If any such steps did take place, he added, the US and its partners were “willing to put into effect tough new sanctions on those orchestrating this action and on key sectors of the Russian economy”.

In London, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, also implied that Russia was skirting dangerously close to actions that could trigger the next round of EU sanctions. “There can be no justification for this action, which bears all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine,” he said.

“Russia should be clear that a deliberate and further escalation of the crisis will bring serious political and economic consequences... the UK will consider any armed Russian presence in eastern Ukraine as a further and deliberate escalation.”

EU heads of state last month tasked the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, with putting together a package of proposed sanctions that would target key Russian economic sectors including energy, mining, arms and financial services. A Commission official said they were working as quickly as they could to get the proposals ready.

While Mr Putin has insisted he has no intention of invading eastern Ukraine, he has made clear that he would use military force if ethnic Russians living in the country came under threat.

His Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, called his Ukrainian counterpart on Monday night to warn against the use of force in eastern Ukraine “to respond to legal demands (by protesters) to protect their language, culture and socio-economic rights”.

Despite those words, Ukrainian police cleared the occupied buildings in Kharkiv after a brief overnight operation in which 70 people were arrested. Protesters remained entrenched in Donetsk and Luhansk, however, with separatists in both cities now demanding a referendum on independence. This was reminiscent of events in Crimea in February, when the ousting of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in Kiev proved the catalyst for Russia’s invasion of the Black Sea peninsula.

The situation in Luhansk, less than 20 miles from the Russian border, appeared to be deteriorating tonight with the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, claiming in a statement that “the criminals have mined the building... and are holding around 60 people, threatening them with weapons and explosives”. A representative for the protesters denied the claim.

Members of Parliament of the Svoboda party fight with Members of Parliament of the Communist party in the Ukrainian parliament on April 8, 2014, during the debates focused on a law toughening responsibility for separatism.

Russia has also hit back at critics, specifically in Nato, which has announced restrictions on Russian diplomats visiting its Brussels headquarters. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said such actions showed the alliance could not rise above “the thinking of the Cold War era”. The Kremlin has also been making tactical use of its command over Europe’s energy market, with an official from the state energy firm Gazprom noting that Ukraine had missed the deadline for paying back some of its $2.2bn (£1.31bn) debt to the company.

Nearly half of the Russian gas that ends up in Europe transits through Ukraine, and EU and Ukrainian officials met in Brussels today to fashion a plan B if Russia does decide to cut off supplies. While Gazprom officials have not said what action they will take over Ukraine’s non-payment of bills, Russia’s Deputy Energy Minister said that he forecast exports to Europe would drop this year.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain