Russia to Ukraine: Any military action to reclaim gov't buildings will lead to "civil war"

Is this helpful advice, or a warning? Take three guesses — and the first two don’t count. As Ukraine’s government prepared to take back buildings seized by pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk, Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that any use of the military by Ukraine would start a “civil war”:

Russia warned Tuesday that any use of force in Ukraine’s eastern region could lead to civil war, as Kiev seeks to regain control after pro-Moscow uprisings in three cities.

Pro-Russian protesters seized government buildings in the three cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv on Sunday. Rebels occupying Donetsk’s regional government building Monday declared a “people’s republic” and called for a referendum on secession from Ukraine to be held by May 11.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said reports that the protesters are facing a crackdown by Ukrainian authorities are of particular concern.

“We are calling for the immediate cessation of any military preparations, which could lead to civil war,” it said in a statement on its official website.

Russia also blamed the unrest in Ukraine on “American experts from the private military organization Greystone,” supposedly disguised as Ukrainians. That is, of course, exactly what Russia did in stirring up unrest and seizing buildings in Crimea before holding a ridiculous plebiscite under occupation as a pretext for annexing the peninsula to the Russian Federation. Consider this a blend of paranoia and projection.

Speaking of pretexts, the demonstrators very clearly want to provide one for Moscow:

Under the attentive eye of Russian state television, several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, declared on Monday that they were forming an independent republic and urged President Vladimir V. Putin to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, even though there was no imminent threat to peace.

The actions in Donetsk and two other main cities in eastern Ukraine, which included demands for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, seemed an effort by the activists to mimic some of the events that preceded Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. However, there were no immediate indications that the Kremlin was receptive to the pleas.

Yet, anyway. The buildup of military forces has gone on for weeks now, so there won’t be much time to spot signals that the Kremlin is “receptive” to the idea before they act on it. And even that depends on the New York Times’ framing of the demonstrations as independent of the Kremlin in the first place, which certainly wasn’t the case in Crimea, and probably isn’t in eastern Ukraine either.

Kyiv managed to wrest control of the Kharkiv building away from demonstrators earlier today, and so far Russia hasn’t reacted. It took only 18 minutes to complete the assault, hardly time for Moscow to react, and perhaps they’re not quite as anxious to go to actual war as they were to get Crimea for free. On the other hand, the parliament in Kyiv gave a pretty good depiction of a nation torn asunder in this crisis today after communists voiced support for the pro-Russian protests:

Deputies in the Ukrainian parliament brawled in the chamber on Tuesday after a communist leader accused nationalists of playing into the hands of Russia by adopting extreme tactics early in the Ukrainian crisis.

Two deputies from the Svoboda far-right nationalist party took exception to the charges by communist Petro Symonenko and seized him while he was talking from the rostrum.

His party supporters rallied to his defense and a brawl broke out with deputies from other parties joining in and trading punches.

Symonenko stirred nationalist anger when, referring to pro-Russian protesters who seized buildings in eastern Ukraine, he said nationalists had set a precedent earlier this year by seizing public buildings in protest at the rule of ousted President Viktor Yanukovich.

Now, he said, armed groups were attacking people who wanted to defend their rights by peaceful means.

“You are today doing everything to intimidate people. You arrest people, start fighting people who have a different point of view,” he said, before being pulled away from the rostrum by the Svoboda deputies.

The civil war may come regardless of whether Moscow crosses into Ukraine or not — but you can bet that if it does, Moscow won’t tarry long on the other side of that border.