Fighting between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine has left at least five militants dead, with Russian President Vladimir Putin calling Kyiv's military moves a "crime."
Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Thursday that its forces, together with army units, had killed five pro-Russian militants and destroyed three of their checkpoints in the city of Slovyansk.
Speaking at a public forum in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if Ukraine's government had indeed started using the army "against the population inside the country," that would be "a very serious crime against their people."
Ukrainian officials said Thursday that police had driven pro-Russian separatists out of the city hall in the eastern city of Mariupol, and that an attack by armed separatists on an army base in the town of Artemivsk had been repelled.
Ukraine earlier this week relaunched what it is calling "anti-terrorist" operations against armed pro-Russians who have taken over government buildings in about a dozen eastern cities. The separatists are demanding the right to vote on whether to split with Ukraine and join Russia.
Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has announced that new military exercises will be conducted in southern and western Russia, involving ground troops and air forces along the border with Ukraine.
Shoigu told reporters Thursday that the drills were in response to the situation in southeastern Ukraine and to planned exercises by NATO forces in nearby Poland and the three Baltic states.
Shoigu said if the "military machine" in Ukraine is not stopped, it will lead to a large number of dead and wounded.
Acting Ukraine President Oleksandr Turchynov responded Thursday in a brief address to the nation, calling on Russia to pull troops back from the Ukrainian border and stop issuing what he called "threats and blackmail."
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters Thursday in Tokyo, said Russia is not abiding by the Geneva agreement to ease the crisis in Ukraine and says he is not hopeful the Russians will cooperate.
He said Russia has chosen not to take the "wise path" and faces stronger sanctions, while he says Ukraine has been taking the concrete steps agreed to last week in Geneva. That includes offering amnesty to pro-Russian separatists who leave the buildings peacefully.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Thursday accused the United States of trying to orchestrate a "color revolution" in Ukraine. He said Washington is using Ukraine as a pawn in a geopolitical game.
Lavrov said the West is acting like the winner of the Cold War and does not consider Russia's interests when drawing up European policies.