Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Russian agents are to blame for unrest this week in Ukraine, and he warned that Russia may be laying the groundwork for a military intervention, just as it did before seizing the Crimean peninsula.
Kerry told a Senate committee that the United States is willing to impose tough additional sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, including against the energy, mining and banking sectors of the Russian economy.
Pro-Russian demonstrators have seized government buildings in at least three cities in eastern Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian government. Police detained 70 people at one building, but police and protesters were in a standoff in two other cities.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed charges from the United States that Russia is trying to destabilize the country.
He also said that the situation can improve only if the interests of Russian speakers are taken into account. Russia used that justification, the protection of Russian speakers, in its invasion of Crimea, which later voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia.
Kerry told the Senate: “It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours.” He added that it could be “a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea.”
Reuters contributed to this report.