Ukraine Forcibly Removes Kharkiv Protesters; Other Standoffs Continue

Ukraine's interior minister says police arrested around 70 demonstrators who had seized a regional administration building in Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city.

Riot police and other Ukrainian forces are cracking down on pro-Russian demonstrators in eastern Ukraine, drawing a warning from neighboring Russia that also includes allegations that an American military contractor is helping Ukraine.

Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov says the troubled country has arrested around 70 demonstrators who had seized a regional administration building in Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city. Forces also drove other activists out of the building, in what Avakov described as an "anti-terrorist" operation.

The crackdown drew a response from Moscow, as The Los Angeles Times reports. Here's the newspaper's quote of a warning issued by Russia's Foreign Ministry:

"According to our information, Ukraine Interior Ministry and National Guard troops including militants of the illegal armed group the Right Sector are being brought to the southeast regions of Ukraine," read a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry's official website Tuesday. "A special concern is connected with the fact that about 150 U.S. experts from the private military organization Greystone dressed in the uniforms of [Ukraine] special unit Sokol are involved in the operation."

On Tuesday, Ukraine's interim presidential chief of staff, Serhiy Pashynsky, charged that the demonstrators were being financed by ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, reports the Kyiv Post. Yanukovych is now living in Russia.

Separatists have also seized a government building in the city of Donetsk, where they declared an independent "people's republic," as we reported Monday.

"Police say that in a third protest in the city of Luhansk pro-Russia activists inside the main state security building have seized weapons," Reuters says.

As tensions have risen in recent days, Ukraine's richest man is telling the separatists to stand down.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on that angle of the story for our Newscast unit:

"Rinat Akhmetov is a multi-billionaire who owns many of Ukraine's steel mills and coal mines. Now he seems to be acting as a mediator with pro-Russian activists.

"A YouTube video shows him at the scene of protests in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, where he appears to express sympathy with the demonstrators.

"In the video, the oligarch seems to encourage the separatists to discuss their concerns — adding that he shares the worries of Russian speakers in the region, but breaking off from Ukraine is not an option.

"This follows days of protests in Eastern Ukrainian cities. Leaders of Ukraine's interim government accuse Russia of provoking the demonstrations in order to destabilize the country. Russia dismisses those claims."

NATO urged Russia to ease tensions in the region Tuesday, as the organization's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the country to "step back." That line was part of a speech delivered in Paris; here's the relevant passage:

"Events in Eastern Ukraine are of great concern. I urge Russia to to step back. Any further move into Eastern Ukraine would represent a serious escalation, rather than the de-escalation that we all seek. We call on Russia to pull back the tens of thousands of troops it has massed on Ukraine's borders, engage in a genuine dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities, and respect its international commitments.

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