Ukrainian troops have recaptured a small airport in eastern Ukraine, in its first military action against pro-Russian separatists who have been taking over government facilities.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said Tuesday that troops have re-taken the airport in the town of Kramatorsk, 160 kilometers from the Russian border. The airport has been under control of the separatists since Sunday.
Pro-Russian militias have staged uprisings in at least nine locations in eastern Ukraine. On Tuesday Mr. Turchynov announced that government forces have begun a cautious operation in the Donetsk region where the pro-Moscow forces are based, after a government deadline for the protesters to surrender passed Monday with no movement.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday said the United States appreciates the "measured" approach Ukraine is taking to the situation with the occupied buildings. He told reporters in Washington the United States continues to counsel restraint, but recognizes that the seizure of government buildings has created a situation to which Ukraine must respond.
Reports say military vehicles and helicopters have been sighted outside Kramatorsk, poised to go into the nearby city of Slovyansk. Russian state media say at least two people have been injured in clashes over Kramatorsk airport, but those reports were not independently confirmed.
In Kyiv, tensions over the crisis spilled into the streets when dozens of activists assaulted pro-Russian lawmaker Oleh Tsaryov outside a television studio. Tsaryov is a candidate in presidential elections to be held May 25.
President Turchynov told lawmakers Tuesday that Moscow has intentionally inflamed the situation in the east.
to be on fire. They want the whole south and east of Ukraine to be on fire - from Kharkiv region to Odessa region.''
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will withdraw from an emergency international summit scheduled for Thursday in Geneva if Kyiv uses force in eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov was questioned about the situation Tuesday during a visit to China.
And Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Mevedev told reporters at a Moscow news conference Tuesday that he believes Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, a prospect he said is "scary."
Western governments have accused Moscow of backing the protests in eastern Ukraine. U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call Monday that Moscow will face further costs if its actions in Ukraine persist. He urged the Russian leader to use his influence to persuade the demonstrators to leave the buildings they have seized.
A report issued Tuesday by the U.N. human rights commissioner accuses Russia of manipulating the March 16 vote through propaganda, harassment and torture of anti-Russian activists. It said ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have falsely claimed to be under assault, to justify Russian intervention. The report warned that if the propaganda persists, it will have an impact on Ukraine's May 25 presidential election.
White House officials say U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kyiv on April 22.