WASHINGTON— The United States has accused Russia of orchestrating armed resistance in eastern Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday warned Moscow of crippling economic sanctions if it fails to adhere to commitments it made earlier this month in Geneva. Russia has begun military exercises close to its border with Ukraine and says it is ready to step in to defend pro-Russian separatists.
Kerry said Thursday there is no doubt that Russia has sent armed men who have occupied government buildings in several eastern Ukrainian towns.
"The world knows that peaceful protesters don't come armed with grenade launchers and automatic weapons, the latest issue from the Russian arsenal, hiding the insignias on their brand new matching military uniforms and speaking in dialects that every local knows come from thousands of miles away. The world knows that the Russian intelligence operatives arrested in Ukraine didn't just take a wrong turn on the highway. In fact, we have seen soldiers wearing uniforms identical to the ones Russian soldiers wore in Crimea last month," said Kerry.
Kerry said Ukraine promptly began implementing steps it agreed to in Geneva earlier this month.
"From day one, Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk has kept his word. He immediately agreed to help vacate buildings. He suspended Ukraine's counterterrorism initiative over Easter, choosing de-escalation despite Ukraine's legitimate, fundamental right to defend its own territory and its own people," said Kerry.
Kerry also said Russia has acted to further destabilize Ukraine to pave the way for more incursions in the country's east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would send troops into Ukraine to defend pro-Russian population in eastern Ukraine. Five separatists were reported killed Thursday in clashes with government forces dispatched to retake occupied government buildings in Slovyansk.
"If the current authorities in Kyiv did that, then they are simply acting like a junta, or a criminal gang," said Putin.
Russia on Thursday began military drills close to its border with Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow had to act after, as he said, Kyiv deployed 11,000 troops and 160 tanks in eastern Ukraine.
"We are forced to react to such a development in this situation," said Shoigu.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Yuriy Sergeyev told VOA Thursday that his government halted the operation in Slovyansk as soon as it turned deadly.
"The ministry of interior decided to suspend the active phase of this action, to look what could happen after that, and still addressing the separatists to surrender," said Sergeyev.
Sergeyev said Russia has done nothing to discourage pro-Russian activity in Ukraine's east or taken any other steps to fulfill its Geneva commitments.
Kerry said international sanctions already have hurt Russia's economy and finances. He said if Moscow continues on its path of distraction, deception and destabilization, the cost will be much higher.