MOSCOW, April 8 (UPI) -- The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs cautioned Ukraine not to use force against protesters in eastern Ukraine or else it would risk "civil war."
Pro-Russian demonstrators took up arms in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, seizing government buildings and indicating their desire to hold a referendum similar to the one held in Crimea in March that led to the (widely considered illegal) annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation.
Kiev dispatched Ukrainian troops to southeastern Ukraine to quell the unrest.
On Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry posted a statement to its website that said: "We are calling for the immediate cessation of any military preparations, which could lead to civil war."
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaking at an open government meeting on Monday, blamed pro-Russian protesters of instigating "a plan to destabilize" the region so that Russian troops could intervene and claim the territory as Russian. Ukrainian acting President Oleksandr Turchynov warned that "anti-terrorist measures will be taken against those who took up arms."
The Russian foreign affairs ministry posted a Facebook message Tuesday alleging the private security firm Greystone, Ltd. had contributed "some 150 American mercenaries ... dressed in the uniform of the [Ukrainian] special task police unit Sokol."
There was no information available on Greystone's website regarding a possible contract in Ukraine. However, the site mentioned a 2012 contract in Russia, where it "provided executive protection services."
The Ukrainian government expressed a desire to avoid bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, and continued on Tuesday to urge the separatists to surrender peaceably.
"Measures have been taken to redeploy special forces to the eastern regions of Ukraine, and our forces have blocked the premises. Weapons have not been removed, and given our desire to avoid bloodshed, we proposed that terrorists lay down their arms and surrender voluntarily," Head of Ukraine's Presidential Administration Serhiy Pashynsky said Tuesday.
[ITAR-TASS News Agency] [Interfax Ukraine News Agency]