Ukraine’s parliament convened Tuesday to debate the deteriorating situation in the east of the country after the seizure of public buildings across the mainly Russian-speaking industrial heartland on Sunday evening.
Kyiv says the actions are a replay of events in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed last month, and accuse Moscow of tying to dismember the country.
“Pre-planned and co-ordinated provocation against our country has started,” acting president and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Turchinov told session. “It was organised by the intelligence services of the Russian Federation.”
Vitaly Klitschko, former boxer and now leader of Ukraine’s Udar party, added:
“The blame for the street riots, for the rioting behaviour of ‘barnstormers’ should be cast upon those who play in separatism, who try to divide the country and sabotage the elections. Law enforcement bodies must deal with foreign infiltrators and paid bandits.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed U.S. accusations that Moscow was destabilising Ukraine. He said the situation could improve only if Kiev took account of the interests of mainly Russian-speaking regions.
Pro-Russian activists barricaded inside a government building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, proclaimed the region independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine — an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Later deputies brawled in the chamber after communist leader Petro Symonenko accused nationalists of playing into the hands of Russia by adopting extreme tactics early in the Ukrainian crisis.
In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a “very serious escalation” that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine were paid and were not local residents.
At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.
Symonenko questioned what the Ukrainian authorities had done to prevent the violence and urging them to listen to the demands of people living in the region.
“Let’s start with analyzing the demands of the citizens — who remain the people of Ukraine — living in Luhansk, Donetsk and other regions they came to the streets with and what rights they want to defend,” Symonenko said.
Two deputies from the Svoboda far-right nationalist party took exception to the charges by communist Petro Symonenko and seized him while he was talking from the rostrum.
His party supporters rallied to his defence and a brawl broke out with deputies from other parties joining in and trading punches.
Symonenko stirred nationalist anger when, referring to pro-Russian protesters who seized buildings in eastern Ukraine, he said nationalists had set a precedent earlier this year by seizing public buildings in protest at the rule of ousted President Viktor Yanukovich.
Now, he said, armed groups were attacking people who wanted to defend their rights by peaceful means.
Symonenko did not appear to have been hurt in the brawl involving other deputies. But one deputy later resumed his seat in the chamber with scratches on his face clearly showing.
The communists backed Yanukovich and his Regions Party through the three months leading up to him fleeing the country on Feb. 21 after more than 100 people were shot dead by police snipers in Kyiv.