Ukraine crisis: John Kerry 'claims Moscow is running network of spies' in troubled east

John Kerry claimed US eavesdroppers have overheard pro-Russian forces in Ukraine being "managed" by government in Moscow.

The Daily Beast says it has obtained recordings where Mr Kerry claimed taped conversations provided proof of Russia deliberately organising unrest in eastern Ukraine.

During a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington, the US Secretary of State allegedly said: "We know exactly who's giving those orders, we know where they are coming from.

"Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language," he is reported to have said.

The claims come as pro-Russian separatists have seized control of state buildings in the town of Horlivka, a city in crisis-torn eastern Ukraine.

The Horlivka's police headquarters had been stormed by pro-Russian militants earlier in April but separatists took over the police division in town and the government administration on Wednesday.  

The town of almost 300,000 people sits just north of Donetsk, where mainly Russian-speaking separatists have declared a 'People's Republic' and plan a referendum on secession on 11 May.

The specific Russian officials implicated in the recording were not named, according to The Beast.

"It's not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine," Mr Kerry is reported to have added.

"This is insulting to everybody's intelligence, let alone to our notions about how we ought to be behaving in the 21st century. It's thuggism, it's rogue state-ism. It's the worst order of behaviour."

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said yesterday that Mr Kerry was referring to Ukrainian intelligence in his remarks on Friday and described The Beast's article as a"mischaracterization."

On Tuesday a large crowd of pro-Russian separatists has stormed the regional administration building in Luhansk, one of the largest cities in Ukraine's troubled east, which is slipping from the control of pro-Western central government.

The action will doubtless raise tensions further in the east, where insurgents have seized control of police stations and other government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns.

Eastern Ukraine, with a large Russian-speaking population, was the heartland of support for Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-friendly president who was ousted in February.

The unrest came as the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed the United States and European Union on Tuesday for imposing sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, after the EU announced asset freezes and travel bans on 15 Russians and Ukrainians.

"We reject sanctions in any of our relationships, in particular those sanctions that were sponsored by the United States and the European Union, which defy all common sense, regarding the events in Ukraine," Mr Lavrov said during a visit to Cuba.

"The attempts to blame others is the result of weak politicians or rather of those politicians who understand that their geopolitical ambitions have failed, and they are attempting to blame others."

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