Ukraine is holding in detention about 10 Russian citizens, all of whom have intelligence backgrounds, the State Security Service announced on Thursday.
Answering a journalist's question about comments made on Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin about the extent of Russian involvement in the Ukraine crisis, an SBU spokeswoman said, “We have about 10 Russians, with Russian passports, who have been detained.”
“They have all had experience of intelligence work,” she said. They were being investigated, she added.
Earlier, Ukraine's interior minister said at least three pro-Russian separatists were killed and 13 wounded in a clash with national guardsmen at a base in the Ukrainian town of Mariupol.
Arsen Avakov said the separatists attacked the base with grenades and gasoline bombs. He said the troops disarmed most of the attackers and arrested 63.
The incident comes as the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers get ready for emergency talks in Geneva with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
A White House spokesman said Kerry will look for any signs Russia is serious about de-escalating the tensions in Ukraine.
Ukraine asks for ICC investigation
Ukraine on Thursday invited the International Criminal Court
to open an investigation into any serious international crimes that may have been committed on its territory in late 2013 and early 2014, the court said in a statement.
The invitation, in the form of a declaration accepting the
court's jurisdiction for the period between November 21 and February 22, does not ask the court to investigate Russia's formal military involvement in Ukraine's Crimea province, which began on Feb. 27.
Ukraine's parliament earlier this year urged the ICC to
investigate crimes allegedly committed by former President Viktor Yanukovich in an attempt to put down the protests that eventually toppled him and drove him into Russian exile. The court's prosecutors are not obliged to investigate.
Putin answers critics
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on a television call-in show Thursday that the Geneva talks are very important in the search for a compromise in Ukraine.
Putin said a democratic process is the only way to bring order back to the country.
He also called it "nonsense" to think there are Russian military units in Ukraine. He said all separatist actions are being carried out by local residents.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday there is substantial evidence of Russian involvement in the unrest in eastern Ukraine. She called it a well-orchestrated professional campaign of incitement and sabotage.
Moscow has said it has the right to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine. It accuses the new Ukrainian leadership of being anti-Russian and anti-Semitic and of threatening the rights of pro-Russians.
President Putin said Russia's annexation of Crimea last month was not planned, but a reaction to what he called tangible threats against Russians living there.
However, senior U.N. human rights official Ivan Simonvic said earlier that his team found no widespread attacks against ethnic Russians during two trips to Ukraine in March.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday demanded clarification from Ukraine and said it would consider retaliating after Kiev said it would impose restrictions on entry into the country by Russian men.
Ukraine said on Thursday it will impose stricter border controls on Russian men trying to enter the country.
"From today the Ukrainian border control service has
significantly increased checks at the border with Russia, not only at the airport,'' a spokesman for the service, Oleh Slobodian, said.
"This applies to Russian citizens because there is information about possible provocations at the border, up to and including terrorist attacks. Attention will be primarily paid to men of an active age, traveling alone or in a group.''
Some information contributed by Reuters.