Britain has accused Russia of a “deliberate destabilisation” of Ukraine as pro-Moscow separatists continued to seize yet another police building in the east of the country.
Arriving for talks in Luxembourg for with EU foreign ministers, Foreign Secretary William Hague called for a “clear and united international response” to the latest violations.
He said that EU officials needed to press ahead with preparations for a new wave of hard-hitting economic sanctions against Russia if it continued its efforts to undermine its neighbour.
“There do have to be consequences to a further and further escalation by Russia of this crisis,” he told reporters.
Moscow has denied orchestrating the latest wave of seizures of police stations and other public buildings in the largely pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, but Mr Hague said their protestations lacked a “shred of credibility”.
“There can’t be any real doubt that this is something that has been planned and brought about by Russia,” he said.
“It has all the appearances of a further gross, deliberate and premeditated violation of the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine.
“It is also clearly a very dangerous thing to do and therefore there has to be a clear and united international response to that.
“I don’t think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility.”
David Cameron interrupted his Easter holiday in Lanzarote to discuss the worsening situation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was also due to speak to French President Francois Hollande.
Mr Hague said the forces involved in the seizures were behaving in exactly the same way as Russian troops in Crimea before Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula. “They are well-armed, well-trained, well-equipped, well-co-ordinated,” he said.
At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday night, the UK’s ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, warned of a “dangerous escalation of an already dangerous situation”.
Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov who has announced he is sending in the army to resist attacks, has called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of the country, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities.
In a telephone conversation with UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, Mr Turchynov suggested that an “anti-terrorist operation” could be conducted jointly by Ukrainian security forces and UN peacekeepers, according to the presidential website. Peacekeepers would have to be authorised by the UN Security Council, in which Russia holds a veto.
During the storming of a police station in the city of Horlivka earlier yesterday, one man identified himself as a lieutenant colonel of the Russian army.
Later in the day, armed men in masks also seized control of a military airport outside the city of Slovyansk.
The EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg were considering further sanctions against Russia.
They were meeting three days ahead of a scheduled conference in Geneva involving diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union, Ukraine and Switzerland, which is intended to seek ways of defusing tensions.