President Barack Obama asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to ask pro-Russian separatists to step down from government buildings they have forcefully occupied. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
KIEV, Ukraine, April 15 (UPI) -- Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov announced Tuesday the start of counter-terrorism operations in the Donetsk region to reclaim control of eastern Ukraine, which is overrun by armed Russian separatists.
President Turchynov told the Ukrainian parliament that the operations will be "phased, responsible and balanced." The operations are in response to armed separatists taking control of official buildings in at least nine cities in the eastern region. Despite the announcement early Tuesday, there were no immediate signs of military aggression in the region.
“A counter-terrorism operation was launched in the north of Donetsk region,” Turchynov told parliament on Tuesday. “But it will go on gradually, responsibly and prudently. Once again I emphasize that these actions are meant for the protection of Ukrainian citizens, stopping terror, criminality and attempts to break our country into pieces.”
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Ukraine was on the brink of a civil war, and blamed the interim Ukrainian government for failing to secure the country. Medvedev added that authorities -- which claimed power "illegally" in February -- were not squarely to blame for the violence across the country that they seem now unable to control.
“The country is on the brink of a civil war. It’s very sad,” Medvedev said on his Facebook page.
U.S. President Barack Obama urged, during a phone call, his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to ask separatists to step down. Putin rejected claims of any influence or Russian interference, calling such reports "unreliable."
"The president expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine," a statement released by the White House read.
Foreign ministers of the European Union decided Monday to freeze the assets of more Russian officials and prominent citizens, and extend visa bans.
But Ukraine appears to be losing its grip on the situation with separatists in the Donetsk region. Turchynov has seemed ill-equipped to tackle the situation. After separatists violated the first ultimatum, Turchynov first vowed to destroy the opposition using force, then offered to hold a referendum, and then even proposed a peacekeeping intervention by the United Nations.
But nothing Turchynov has said has affected or moved pro-Russian separatists, who continue to take over and occupy more government buildings in the region.