Ukraine's police and security forces are "helpless" to quell the unrest in two eastern regions bordering Russia and in some cases are cooperating with the pro-Russia gunmen who have seized scores of buildings and taken people hostage, Ukraine's leader said Wednesday.
HORLIVKA, Ukraine — Ukraine's police and security forces are "helpless" to quell the unrest in two eastern regions bordering Russia and in some cases are cooperating with the pro-Russia gunmen who have seized scores of buildings and taken people hostage, Ukraine's leader said Wednesday.
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said his government's goal now was to prevent the agitation from spreading to other territories in the sprawling nation of 46 million people.
His interim government in Kiev and Western governments have accused Moscow of orchestrating the turmoil in eastern Ukraine, which borders Russia. The United States and the European Union rolled out new economic sanctions against Russia this week but Moscow has remained unbowed, denying its role in the unrest.
Turchynov spoke hours after pro-Russia gunmen seized more administrative buildings in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev city authorities, meanwhile, announced unexpected middle-of-the night security drills running from Wednesday night into Thursday morning by the state guard service. That could alarm the eastern insurgents who favor more independence or even separatism, but also could be aimed at reassuring Ukrainians unsettled by Turchynov's admission of impotence in the east.
At a meeting in Kiev, Turchynov laid out the central security challenge facing Ukraine, instructing regional governors to try to prevent the threat in the east from overtaking central and southern regions.
"I will be frank: Today, security forces are unable to quickly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control," Turchynov said. "The security bodies ... are unable to carry out their duties of protecting citizens. They are helpless in those matters. Moreover, some of those units are either helping or cooperating with terrorist organizations."
He said "mercenaries and special units" were attacking eastern Ukraine.
"That is why I am stressing our task is to stop the spread of the terrorist threat, first of all in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions," Turchynov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
The mayor of Kharkiv, who had been credited with keeping Ukraine's second-largest city calm, was shot in the back earlier this week.
Turchynov said the threat of a Russian invasion was real and urged the creation of regional self-defense units throughout the country, according to the Interfax news agency. Russia has placed tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine and has annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Yulia Torhovets, a spokeswoman for the Kiev city government, would not provide any details about the drills, saying only that the city made the announcement to keep residents informed.
"We didn't want people to get scared when they see combat equipment," Torhovets told The Associated Press. "We didn't want anyone to panic."
Some Ukrainians were appalled by the loss of control over the country's eastern regions and accused the central government of reacting too slowly.
"In a normal society, when Oleksandr Turchynov admits the fact that the authorities do not control the situation in the east of the country, that's grounds for resignation. And not just from him, but all the security forces," Valeriy Kalnysh, the former editor of the now-defunct Kommersant Ukraine daily, wrote on Facebook. "But can we afford this now? .... And is it the right move in the conditions of an undeclared war with Russia?"