Russia has denounced alleged lawlessness by far-right activists in eastern Ukraine, in a statement likely to trigger fear in Ukraine over possible Russian intervention.
The Russian foreign ministry said on Monday it was outraged by lawlessness in the country’s east, blaming the far-right group Right Sector for "conniving" with the new government in Kiev.
Right Sector is a grouping of several far-right and nationalist factions who were actively involved in the uprising against Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich.
The movement uses swastika signs, is blamed for various attacks, and according to its leader Dmitro Yarosh, has “enough weapons to defend all of Ukraine.”
Its activists were among the most radical and confrontational of the demonstrators in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and organised “self-defence” brigades for the protest camp.
Witnesses in eastern Ukraine told Reuters news agency, tensions had been fueled by pro-Russian activists to provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with a justification for invading Ukraine to protect Russians.
Pro-Russia sentiment is at a high and there are fears Russia could seek to incorporate that area as well.
A referendum has been called in Crimea for March 16 on whether the region should split off and seek to become part of Russia.
Distorting the facts
The Russian ministry has criticised the West for being silent over violence and detentions taking place against Russians, highlighting the attack on a pro-Moscow demonstrators in the eastern city of Kharkiv on March 8 and the detention of Russian journalists.
"The shamefaced silence of our Western partners, human rights organisations and foreign media is surprising. It raises the question, where is the notorious objectivity and commitment to democracy?" it said.
We have to admit that our life now is almost like... a war
Ukraine's government and Western leaders have accused Russian officials and media of distorting the facts to portray the protesters who ended former President Yanukovich's rule as violent extremists.
Ukraine's foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsia said he felt like he was almost in a state of war after Russian forces took effective control of the Crimean Peninsula.
"We have to admit that our life now is almost like... a war,'' Deshchytsya said, "We have to cope with an aggression that we do not understand.''
On Sunday, a pro-Russian crowd in the eastern city of Luhansk occupied the regional government headquarters, raised the Russian flag and demanded the right to hold a referendum on joining Russia, like in Crimea.
Deshchytsia said Ukraine was counting on help from abroad to deal with its giant neighbour to the east.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk will be received in Washington by President Barack Obama.
Obama has warned that the March 16 vote in Crimea would violate international law. But on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he supports the referendum, in phone calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Minister David Cameron.
“The steps taken by the legitimate leadership of Crimea are based on the norms of international law and aim to ensure the legal interests of the population of the peninsula,” said Putin, according to the Kremlin.
Putin has refused to have any dealings with the new Ukrainian leaders who replaced fugitive pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych.