U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told U.S. senators that Russia is fueling separatist unrest in Eastern Ukraine that could be what he called a "contrived crisis" to justify military intervention.
Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations committee Tuesday that Russia's involvement in pro-Russia unrest in at least three Ukrainian cities is "clear and unmistakable." He said U.S. President Obama is preparing a far-tougher set of sanctions on Russia if Moscow continues its efforts to destabilize Ukraine.
Kerry said Russia has a choice to work with the international community in a way that allows Ukraine to become a bridge between East and West, or it could face greater isolation and pay the cost of its actions.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that the southeastern parts of Ukraine should be included in talks about the country's future. He said Russia wants to see those regions, which are largely Russian-speaking, represented in multilateral talks.
Also Tuesday, Russia's foreign ministry called on Ukraine to halt what it called military preparations in the southeast that could lead to civil war.
And in Paris, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that further Russian intervention in Ukraine would be an "historic mistake" that would further isolate Russia from the world. Instead, he said, Russia should pull back its troops, fulfill its international commitments, and engage in constructive dialogue with Ukraine.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said 70 protesters were arrested in an anti-terror operation to drive out pro-Russian demonstrators who seized a government building in the city of Kharkiv.
Pro-Russian demonstrators took over buildings Sunday in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are demanding referendums on splitting with Ukraine -- the same kind of vote that took place last month in Crimea.
The White House says it has evidence that some of the protesters are not local Russian-speakers but were brought in from elsewhere and paid to start trouble.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to ask Russia to disavow those Kerry calls separatists and saboteurs.