As pro-Russia separatists in the eastern region seized government buildings and demanded votes on
Secretary of State
Kerry "made clear that any further Russian effort to destabilize Ukraine will incur further costs for Russia," she said.
Hundreds of pro-Russia activists took part in demonstrations over the weekend in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, raising new fears that the Kremlin might order another military intervention a month after it annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The demonstrators seized several Ukrainian government buildings.
Psaki stopped short of directly accusing Moscow of sending in paid agitators. But she said there was "strong evidence" that some pro-Russia demonstrators were paid and "were not local residents."
In his phone call with Lavrov, Kerry noted that Ukrainian authorities had recently arrested what he described as Russian intelligence operatives working in Ukraine. He called on Russia to "disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs," and he called for dialogue to ease tensions.
Senior administration officials last month warned Moscow that the U.S. could slap Moscow with broad economic sanctions if Russia escalated its pressure on polarized Ukraine. The
But it remains unclear whether the
Kerry also signaled a desire to start four-way talks with Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States in hopes of easing tensions. Psaki said U.S. officials hoped the group could sit down within days to negotiate a de-escalation.
U.S. officials have hoped that Russian President
But the weekend protests, if orchestrated by Russia, would suggest that Putin at the very least is willing to use his leverage in eastern Ukraine to increase his power there at the expense of the fragile interim government in Kiev, Ukraine's capital.
However, Psaki said the administration was not considering military options.