Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators who have seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, urged President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, and they demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, The New York Times reports:
The renewed unrest in eastern Ukraine, which flared on Sunday with coordinated demonstrations by thousands of pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, reignited fears in Kiev and the West about Russian military action
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said he believed the protests represented “the second wave of Russia’s special operation against Ukraine, aimed at destabilization, toppling the current government, thwarting elections and tearing the country apart.”
….warning that an operation had been launched to arrest perpetrators and the military presence along Ukraine’s borders had been beefed up. Mr Turchynov, also speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said draft legislation banning parties that back separatism had been submitted for consideration.
“This is not politics. This is a serious crime. We will act swiftly against criminals,” he said.
There is evidence that pro-Russia demonstrators in Ukraine’s east are getting support from Russians inside Ukraine, USA Today reports:
Ukrainian authorities say Russia is working behind the scenes to inflame separatist tension and destabilize eastern Ukraine, where half of the population is Russian-speaking, to create a pretext for sending in Russia troops as was done in Crimea.
“They don’t make up a big share of the demonstrators, but there are up to a thousand Russian volunteers in Ukraine,” said analyst Sergei Markov, a backer of the Russian government who has advised the Kremlin on Ukraine.
Asked if those volunteers would be willing to take up arms if a conflict broke out, Markov said “of course.”
Defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper said there could be a full-fledged Russian military incursion into the three eastern Ukrainian cities, VOA’s Michael Eckels reports:
“The real factor is the battle readiness of the troops that are designated there. And battle readiness seems to be right now at its highest,” he said.
However, that battle readiness can’t be sustained indefinitely, Felgenhauer said, meaning that Russia has a window of opportunity to invade eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament will push through anti-separatist legislation.
“So it’s either now or never. Not maybe never, but at least the same level of battle readiness we have right now will be maybe again reached somewhere in August.”….
Mark Galeotti, a security expert and professor at New York University, said it is within Ukraine’s abilities to use force to remove the pro-Russia activists from the buildings they have seized.
“Kyiv needs to show that it has strength and determination. If it doesn’t, it will embolden the protesters all the more,” said Galeotti.
Only 14 percent of Ukrainians support federalization, according to a poll released Saturday by the International Republican Institute. Federalization was more popular in the south, 22 percent, and the east, 26 percent, The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports.
The poll, which included Crimea, was carried out from March 14 to 26 as Crimea was being annexed by Russia. The results contradict the assertions Russia has made to justify its annexation of Crimea and its threats to intervene in eastern Ukraine, instead finding widespread opposition to Russian incursion and a growing preference for ties to Europe rather than Russia….
Russia has described what it calls “atrocities” against Russian-speakers, issuing warnings that suggest it is building a case to send troops into eastern Ukraine as it did in Crimea. The IRI poll released Saturday, however, found Ukraine’s Russian-speakers did not feel under threat. Even in the Russian-speaking east and south, including Crimea, 74 percent said they felt no threat.
“The issue of federalization is absolutely artificial,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, a political expert at the Razumkov think tank in Kiev. “It’s part of Russia’s plan to impose control over Ukraine and prevent it from integrating with Europe.”
IRI is one of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes.