Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Tuesday complained to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about an increase in Moscow-backed separatists’ activities in Ukraine as that country’s top state security official accused Russian military intelligence officers of fomenting the unrest.
Mr. Kerry called Mr. Lavrov on the phone and “expressed deep concern over the lack of positive Russian steps to de-escalate, cited mounting evidence that separatists continue to increase the number of buildings under occupation and take journalists and other civilians captive,” a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
The secretary also urged Russia to “tone down escalatory rhetoric, engage diplomatically in the east with [the Europeans] and Ukrainian government, and issue public statements calling for those occupying buildings to disarm and stand down in exchange for amnesty,” the official said.
Mr. Kerry warned that in the absence of “measurable progress” on implementing the Geneva agreement reached last week between the U.S., European Union, Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate the crisis, the U.S. would slap more sanctions on Russia.
Meanwhile, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the head of Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU), said Russia’s military intelligence agency had spent years building covert networks in Ukraine that its officers are now using to help seize cities such as Slaviansk and Kramatorsk north of the major eastern city of Donetsk.
Russian military officers are the “main provocateurs and main organizers” of the unrest, Mr. Nalyvaichenko said in a web briefing organized the Atlantic Council on Tuesday.
“We, for sure, know who they are … [The Russian officers] are very dangerous, well-armed, for years before prepared to do what they are doing now,” he said.
Mr. Nalyvaichenko said Ukrainian authorities have detained 21 members of the Russian military intelligence service (GRU) network, including three GRU officers who are being held in the capital, Kiev.
Up to 30 Russian GRU officers are working in the Slaviansk district and “hundreds and hundreds” of their agents are behind the unrest in eastern Ukraine, he said.
Russian officers are paying cash to demonstrators to protest in eastern Ukraine, he added.
Mr. Kerry on Tuesday also spoke with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He praised the steps taken by the government in Kiev to de-escalate the crisis.
Mr. Kerry “encouraged final passage of the amnesty legislation and the formal launch of the national dialogue, including the issuance of invitations to a broad range of participants,” the senior State Department official said.