Earlier this morning we reported that “Pro-Russia Protesters Seize Government Building In East Ukraine, Demand Autonomy.” We suggested that this was only the first city in eastern Ukraine that would see this kind of internal revolt. Sure enough, hours later, the largest city in East Ukraine and one located in close proximity to Russia, Kharkiv, also saw its state building fall to what appear to be pro-Russia protesters, making it the third major city after Donetsk and nearby Luhansk. This coordinated and largely unexpected pro-Russian action triggering accusations from the pro-European government in Kiev that President Vladimir Putin was orchestrating “separatist disorder.”
Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind the seizure of state buildings by pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine on Sunday and promised that police would restore order peacefully.
He also accused Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovich of conspiring with Putin to fuel tensions in the region.
Earlier, pro-Russian protesters demanding a referendum on whether to join Russia seized a regional government building in the city of Donetsk and the offices of security services in nearby Luhansk.
“Putin and Yanukovich ordered and paid for the latest wave of separatist disorder in the east of the country. The people who have gathered are not many but they are very aggressive,” Avakov said in a statement on his Facebook page.
“The situation will come back under control without bloodshed. That is the order to law enforcement officers, it’s true. But the truth is that no one will peacefully tolerate the lawlessness of provocateurs,” he said.
As expected, Kiev is scrambling to restore the semblance that it is under control, which as we noted earlier, it isn’t:
Acting President Oleksander Turchinov called an emergency meeting of security chiefs in Kiev and took personal control of the situation, the parliamentary press service said.
The problem for Kiev is that suddenly the scramble for a referendum is reminiscent of what happened in Crimea. And everyone knows how that ended. Which means the acting government has to promptly halt the momentum toward sovereign independence or else East Ukraine is about to become a separate country, if not the latest annexation success for Russia.
Around 1,500 people protested in Donetsk on Sunday before breaking into the regional administration building, where they hung a Russian flag from a second-floor balcony, a Reuters witness said. Protesters outside cheered and chanted “Russia! Russia!”.
In the Luhansk protest, Ukrainian television said three people had been injured. Police could not confirm the report. Talking to the crowd over a loudspeaker, protest leaders in Donetsk said they wanted regional lawmakers to convene an emergency meeting to discuss a vote on joining Russia like the one in Ukraine’s Crimea region that led to its annexation.
“Deputies of the regional council should convene before midnight and take the decision to carry out a referendum,” one of the protest leaders said, without identifying himself.
A local Internet portal streamed footage from the seized building, showing people entering and exiting freely. Soviet-era music was being played over loudspeakers outside. The building houses the offices of Serhiy Taruta, a steel baron recently appointed by the interim government in Kiev as governor of a region with close economic and historical ties to Russia.
“Around 1,000 people took part (in the storming of the building), mostly young people with their faces covered,” said Ihor Dyomin, a spokesman for Donetsk local police. “Around 100 people are now inside the building and are barricading the building,” he added.
News of the mini coups quickly spread like wildfire across tiwtter and YouTube.
— ??????? ????? (@nic_mukhin) April 6, 2014
But the scariest news came moments ago from the Twitter account of Konstantin Rykov, who reported that the Russian troops in Rostov have just been put on military alert. We have not seen any independent confirmation anywhere else but this would be a very serious escalation in the superficial detente between Russia and the West via its proxy regime in Kiev.
— ?????????? ????? (@rykov) April 6, 2014
For those who want to follow events as they unfold, here is a live webcast from Kharkiv:
Your browser does not support iframes.