MOSCOW — Under the watchful eye of Russian state television, several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, declared Monday that they were forming an independent republic and urged President Vladimir Putin to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, even though there are no obvious threats to peace in the area.
The actions in Donetsk and three other cities in eastern Ukraine, which included a demand for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, seemed an effort by the activists to mimic some of the events that preceded Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Secretary of State John Kerry told the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in a phone call Monday that there would be “further costs” if Russia took additional steps to destabilize Ukraine, the State Department said.
Kerry said in the call that the United States was monitoring with growing concern the pro-Russia protests in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lugansk and Mariupol, and did not believe they were a “spontaneous set of events,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman.
The United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union are planning to meet jointly in the next 10 days to discuss the situation in Ukraine, Psaki said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry denied any role in the unrest, even though the demonstrations Sunday evening in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk seemed coordinated and bore the hallmarks of similar protests last month that were organized with support from Moscow.
While the demonstrators in Donetsk announced that a ballot referendum on secession from Ukraine would be held no later than May 11, there did not appear to be the same overwhelming support for such a move as there was in Crimea last month.
The regional prosecutor, Mykola Frantovkskiy, issued a statement calling the demonstrators’ actions illegal and saying that law enforcement officials had identified the criminal “separatists” and that “all necessary measures will be taken to apprehend the violators.”
The events in the east unfolded just hours after a Ukrainian military officer was shot and killed in Crimea in a confrontation with Russian troops.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Vladislav Seleznev, said the officer, Maj. Stanislav Karchevskiy, was killed in a military dormitory, next to the Novofedorivka air base in western Crimea.