In another turn towards tensions in Ukraine, various government buildings in Eastern and Southern Ukraine have been stormed by Pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a Crimea-style referendum. With Russian flags waving and clashes with authorities, it is unclear whether the demonstrators were acting alone or with support from the Kremlin.
The cities that had the most disturbances were Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv. Each are located in the Southeast of the country, and they are all relatively close to the border with Russia. Furthermore, these areas, much like Crimea, have large Russian speaking and Russian ethnic populations.
These latest protests were in response to the events which have rocked the Eastern European nation over the past few months.
Following the ouster of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich who worked towards closer ties with Russia as opposed to Europe, Pro-Russian protests in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, and finally a subsequent annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation following a widely controversial referendum, these recent protests have sparked renewed concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering invading Ukraine’s Southeast.
In response to the incidents, Ukraine’s government has blamed the events on Russia. Accordingly, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the events were financed and planned by Putin and Yanukovich. The cities in which the protests occurred were former political strongholds for Yanukovich.
As well, various government buildings were stormed by protesters who managed to break past riot police and barricade themselves inside. In Donetsk, Pro-Russians made their point by chanting “Donetsk is a Russian city,” while raising the Russian flag over the regional administration building.
These latest protests raise fears that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine. With an unspecified number of troops ranging in the tens of thousands along the border with support ranging from supply lines to field hospitals, some analysts fear these latest protests will be used as a front for a military invasion.
Putin has declared that he will do what it takes to defend Russian speaking and Russian ethnic people in Ukraine from a government that Moscow believes is illegitimate. At the same time, Russia has denied it has any military interests in Ukraine.
Minister Avakov vowed to bring a resolution to the situation without the use of bloodshed. As well, acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov cancelled a scheduled trip and instead planned an emergency meeting to monitor the situation.
As well, these protests come in the wake of recent revelations that the Ukrainian government disrupted planned militant attacks by a separatist group in the city of Luhansk. The group was arrested and disbanded and over 300 firearms as well as other weapons were seized.
With Ukraine rocked by Pro-Russian protesters, only time will tell what the results will yield. Furthermore, as government buildings were stormed in Crimea before its annexation, many are wondering what the West’s response should be. According to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel when responding to some related concerns in Ukraine, “the world will respond,” to these most recent incidents.
By Brett Byers-Lane
Follow Brett on Twitter