Pro-Russian protesters attend a rally in front of the
seized office of the SBU state security service in Luhansk,
eastern Ukraine. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
Armed pro-Russian separatists have seized more buildings
in eastern Ukraine, expanding their control after the
government failed to follow through on threatened military
crackdown leaving Moscow's partisans essentially unopposed.
European foreign ministers agreed to widen sanctions against
Moscow and the White House said Washington was seeking ways
to impose more "costs" on Russia, for what Kiev and its
Western friends call a Russian plot to dismember Ukraine.
Rebels in the town of Slaviansk, where the authorities failed
to follow through with their announced "anti-terrorist"
operation, called for Russian President Vladimir Putin's
Ukraine's interim president Oleksander Turchinov said on
Monday the offensive against the rebels would still go ahead.
But in a sign of discord behind the scenes in Kiev, he sacked
the state security chief in charge of the operation.
In Donetsk, rebels holed up in the administrative
headquarters of a province that is home to 10 percent of
Ukraine's population said they planned to seize control of
infrastructure and the levers of state power. They have
declared an independent "People's Republic of Donetsk" and
sought Putin's protection if they are attacked.
Rebels have also seized buildings in around 10 other towns
and cities across other eastern provinces which form the
heartland of Ukraine's heavy industry.
In a bid to undercut the rebels' demands, Turchinov held out
the prospect of a countrywide referendum on the future shape
of the Ukrainian state. Pro-Russian secessionists want
separate referendums in their regions, which Kiev says is
The uprising in eastern Ukraine began eight days ago but has
accelerated sharply in the past 48 hours, with separatists
seizing ever more buildings, including arsenals filled with
weapons. They have met little opposition.
Kiev says the separatists are organised by Moscow, seeking to
repeat the seizure of the Crimea region, which Moscow
occupied and annexed last month.
Russia says the armed men are all locals acting on their own,
but Western officials say the uprising is too
well-coordinated to be entirely spontaneous, and bears too
many similarities to the Russian operation in Crimea.
"I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of
credibility," British Foreign Minister William Hague said,
before a meeting with EU counterparts.
Hague later announced that the ministers had agreed to expand
a list of Russians barred from travelling or doing business
in the EU. Work would begin to come up with new names for the
sanctions list, Hague said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said
President Barak Obama would speak to Putin by phone later on
Monday. Washington is also planning to expand its sanctions
list. Russia has so far shrugged off targeted sanctions.
Moscow says it has the right to intervene to protect Russian
speakers in Ukraine, and has portrayed the people of the east
as under threat from gangs of Ukrainian-speaking "fascists".
NATO says Russia has tens of thousands of troops massed on
the frontier, able to capture eastern Ukraine within days.
Turchinov had threatened to launch a military crackdown by 9
a.m., but as the deadline expired there was no sign of any
action in Slaviansk. A rebel leader, in an appeal issued
through journalists, asked Putin to "help us as much as you
The Kremlin said the Russian president was listening.
"Unfortunately, there's a great many such appeals coming from
the Eastern Ukrainian regions addressed directly to Putin to
intervene in this or that form," spokesman Dmitry Peskov
said. "The president is watching the developments in Eastern
Ukraine with great concern."
Also in Slaviansk, about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian
border, a small airfield which was occupied by Ukrainian air
force planes on Sunday was empty on Monday and pro-separatist
forces said they were now in control of it.
Eastern Ukraine seems to be rapidly spinning out of the
control of the central government. The governor of Donetsk, a
multi-millionaire appointed by Kiev, has not been seen since
April 11. A man calling himself Donetsk's new police chief
has appeared wearing the orange and black separatist ribbon.
The Ukrainian defence ministry acknowledged that it has had
difficulty mobilising the armed forces in the east, where
some units have been blockaded in by rebellious locals.
"On some occasions we have lost the information war and there
have been blockades of our units. People don't understand why
they are coming," said acting Defence Minister Mykhailo
Koval. He said 26 members of a reconnaissance unit had been
blockaded for the past day and a half in Slaviansk.
"Negotiations are under way to free them to allow them to
link up with our main force."
In the town of Horlivka about 100 pro-Russian separatists
attacked the police headquarters on Monday. Video footage on
Ukrainian television showed an ambulance treating people
apparently injured in the attack.
Russia's foreign ministry called Turchinov's planned military
operation a "criminal order" and said the West should bring
its allies in Ukraine's government under control.
The Ukraine crisis has led to the biggest confrontation
between Moscow and the West since the Cold War. Washington
said a Russian fighter aircraft had made 12 low altitude
passes over a U.S. warship in the Black Sea over the weekend,
which it called a "provocative and unprofessional Russian
Outside the Slaviansk city council offices stood a group of
about 12 armed men in matching camouflage fatigues with black
masks, one of whom was holding a Russian flag.
They said they were Cossacks - paramilitary fighters
descended from Tsarist-era patrolmen - but did not say where
from. One told Reuters: "The borders between Ukraine, Russia
and Belarus are artificial and we are here to take them
In Donetsk, leaders of the self-declared "People's Republic"
held a strategy meeting to plan their seizure of control of
the rest of the region's state functions.
"Everything from city cleaning to the sewage system, the
airport, railway stations, military... should be under your
control," one leader, Vladimir Makovich, told about two dozen
other senior separatists in a dark room on the top floor of
the 11-storey government headquarters.
Over the past week, the rebels have turned the massive
Soviet-era building into a bastion for urban warfare.
Barricades crosscross the corridors and steel plates are
welded to windows.
"We are ready for storming at any time. No matter what
happens, this building will not be given up," said Alexander
Zakharchenko, 38, commander of a paramilitary unit made up of
members of a martial arts club.
Turchinov's announcement he was sending in the army was the
first time the military has been activated in six months of
internal disorder. The plan implies a lack of confidence in
the 30,000-strong interior ministry troops, partly
discredited by identification with ousted president Viktor
Russian stocks and the rouble fell sharply on Monday,
reflecting fears of further Russian military intervention in
Ukraine and more western sanctions against Moscow.
Kiev is also facing economic disarray. The central bank
nearly doubled its overnight interest rate to 14.50 percent
from 7.50 percent. Ukraine's hryvnia currency has lost 38
percent of its value against the dollar this year.
Moscow has largely brushed off sanctions so far, which the
United States and Europe have explicitly designed to target
only a limited number of officials and avert wider economic