Ukraine Mounts Security Push as Russia Warns on Civil War

 Ukrainian authorities sent security forces to Kharkiv to clear the country’s second-biggest city of separatists as Russia traded accusations with the U.S. and warned that its neighbor’s crackdown risks sparking civil war.

An “anti-terrorist operation” is under way in Kharkiv, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border, with the subway closed and the downtown area sealed off, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said today. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said 150 specialists from a U.S. private security company, Greystone, are involved in putting down protests. Ukraine countered that most of those behind the unrest are Russian and denied U.S. advisers are involved.

prorussian_small Ukraine Mounts Security Push as Russia Warns on Civil War

“We call for the immediate halt of all military preparations, which risk sparking a civil war,” the ministry in Moscow said in a statement on its website.

Russia and the U.S. are on a collision course after tensions flared in Ukraine over the weekend and diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis faltered. The U.S. threw its weight yesterday behind the contention of Ukrainian officials that some pro-Russian separatists who seized administration buildings in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk were paid provocateurs brought in from outside.

Russians Deported

“We do have proof and we’ve already deported a number of Russians who’ve been in eastern Ukraine provoking the situation and violating Ukrainian laws,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The Ukrainian government has enough power and authority to control the situation.”

Deshchytsia said any suggestion Greystone is playing a role in the crackdown is “just Russian propaganda.” Greystone didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The unrest has prompted investors to sell Russian and Ukrainian assets. The Finance Ministry in Moscow canceled tomorrow’s ruble-bond auction after yields jumped the most in three weeks yesterday. The benchmark Micex share index was little changed, though it’s slid 6.6 percent since President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Crimea on March 1.

Ukrainian sovereign notes maturing June 4 fell to 96.62 cents on the dollar, the lowest since March 24. The hryvnia dropped 0.7 percent to 11.7850 per dollar.

Russian companies should consider delisting their shares from foreign stock exchanges and switching trading to Moscow amid the standoff, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters after a government meeting near Moscow. “This is a question of economic security,” he said.

‘Russian Strategy’

Current events bear “the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilize Ukraine,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament in London. “It would be consistent with Russia’s strategy and behavior over recent weeks to try to damage the credibility” of elections scheduled for May as well

as “to make it more difficult for Ukraine to operate as a

democratic state.”

The pro-Russian protesters demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine, state-run Rossiya 24 television reported. The mayor of Kharkiv confirmed reports that several dozen other demonstrators seized a TV transmitter and demanded more Russian channels be broadcast, according to the Interfax news service.

The regional government building in Kharkiv was freed of separatists today, with 70 people detained, according to Avakov. None of them are Russian citizens, he said. Eight people asked for medical assistance after clashes last night, the city administration said on its website.

Crimea Precedent

The demonstrations have resembled the actions of pro-Russian protesters who seized Crimea’s assembly and paved the way for Russia to annex the peninsula last month. Putin says he has the right to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine from “fascists” after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Russian speakers account for 44.3 percent in the Kharkiv region, 74.9 percent in the Donetsk region and 68.8 percent in the Luhansk region, 2001 census data show.

U.S. and European officials are increasingly concerned that yesterday’s disturbances, along with Russian economic and military pressure, signal the next phase of Putin’s effort to make Ukraine a loose federation allied with Russia.

‘Serious Escalation’

Any further Russian move into Ukraine “would be an historic mistake” and “a serious escalation,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Paris. “It’s obvious that the evolving security situation in Ukraine makes it necessary to review our defense plans.”

Russia has as many as 40,000 soldiers stationed along the frontier, according to the U.S. and NATO. Putin says they are conducting military exercises and will withdraw afterward.

Ukraine’s national guard and irregular forces of Pravyi Sektor, which unites nationalist groups, are gathering in southern and eastern Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

An outright invasion of eastern Ukraine is unlikely in the run-up to the May presidential election, said Chris Weafer, a partner at Moscow-based Macro Advisory.

“Recent events look like a Cold War-type set-up filled with agents provocateurs,” Weafer said by phone from London. “It seems like Russia’s just needling Ukraine to see what they can get away with.”

Lavrov, Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday to arrange talks among officials from Ukraine, the U.S., the EU and Russia within 10 days to head off any escalation.

“The agenda and the precise timing of this meeting are currently being worked on,” EU foreign-affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels today.

Russia is ready to examine a “multilateral format” for talks, Lavrov said in Moscow. The new Ukrainian government hasn’t yet sent “any positive signals” to the southeast, he told reporters.

The U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions on Russian officials and associates of Putin in response to the annexation of Crimea. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. will target Russian industries, including energy and finance, if Russia moves deeper into Ukraine.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in televised remarks yesterday that Russia is trying to split his nation and turn part into “a territory of slavery under a Russian dictatorship.” The Kharkiv protests were inspired and funded by Yanukovych and Putin, Avakov told reporters in Kiev today.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said yesterday there’s “strong evidence” that demonstrators included paid outsiders. “That at least suggests that outside forces, not local forces, were participating in the effort to create these provocations,” he said.