Russia, U.N. Secretary-General Wrangle Over Ukraine's Use of Force

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While the Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke on the phone about de-escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine Tuesday, the White House offered its tacit support for Ukrainian military action against pro-Russian separatists.

In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, Ukrainian special forces recaptured a small airport on Tuesday that had been occupied by militiamen. Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov earlier announced an "anti-terrorist operation" against insurgents who have seized control of numerous buildings in the country's east.

In his call with Ban, Putin emphasized that Russia expects the U.N. and the international community to condemn the use of force by the Ukrainian authorities in eastern Ukraine, according to a statement from the Kremlin.

Putin said he “expects the United Nations and the international community to clearly condemn these anti-constitutional actions,” according to the Kremlin.

For his part, Ban expressed alarm about the highly volatile situation in eastern Ukraine and stressed “the need for everyone to work to de-escalate the situation,” according to a statement from his press office.

Meantime, White House spokesman Jay Carney said during the daily briefing that Ukraine’s “use of force is not a preferred option. That said, the Ukrainian government has a responsibility to provide law and order, and these provocations in eastern Ukraine are creating a situation in which the government has to respond.”

Carney repeated that the U.S. is not considering providing lethal aid to Ukraine, but when asked about non-lethal military aid like body armor, he said the U.S. is still reviewing options.

Carney was also asked if the U.S. has any evidence of Russian Special Forces operating in Ukraine as anti-governmental forces.

“We've certainly seen substantial evidence to suggest direct Russian involvement, including media reports. Including one I saw this morning where one of the individuals seizing a building identified himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army. And I think the Ukrainian government has noted that they have arrested a number of Russian agents, but I would refer you to the Ukrainian government for details.”

Petra Cahill, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.