Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops expelled pro-Russian demonstrators from a regional administration building in the eastern city of Kharkiv early on Tuesday, arresting about 70 protesters as the provisional government in Kiev moved to exert control over unrest that the United States and its Western allies fear might lead to a Russian military invasion.
The successful operation to remove the demonstrators was announced by Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who had traveled to Kharkiv to supervise the enforcement effort and described a dramatic overnight siege during which the building was briefly set on fire.
Mr. Avakov, writing on Facebook, boasted that the building had been retaken “without firing a shot, grenades, or other special weapons.” He said the special forces that had carried out the operation in Kharkiv were part of a broader redeployment of Interior Ministry troops to eastern Ukraine aimed at countering the unrest, which the government in Kiev has said is being orchestrated by Russia.
The unrest, in which pro-Russian demonstrators on Sunday evening seized government buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities in the region, has posed a delicate challenge for the authorities in Kiev given that Russian armed forces are deployed along the border and that the Kremlin has warned that it is prepared to intervene to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responding to the deployment of Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops, issued a stern statement accusing the Ukrainian government of embedding within its forces in eastern Ukraine both nationalist militants from the group Right Sector and private American mercenaries from a company called Greystone. It said the American contractors were being disguised as members of a military unit called “Falcon.”
A private American security company affiliated with Greystone, Academi — once known as Blackwater and notorious for its military contracting work in Iraq —, issued a statement in mid-March saying its personnel were not working in Ukraine, after similar allegations surfaced in the Russian press. The company did not immediately respond to the statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ministry, which has repeatedly denounced the government in Kiev as illegitimate and the result of a coup, warned against the use of military force in eastern Ukraine. “We call immediately for the halt of any military preparations, which risk the outbreak of civil war,” it said in its statement.
In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia would seek multinational talks on the Ukrainian political crisis that could include the United States, the European Union and “all the political forces in Ukraine,” which should include representatives of the country’s southeast, which includes Donetsk and Lugansk.
“The result, of course, should be constitutional reform,” Mr. Lavrov said at a televised news conference following a bilateral meeting with the foreign minister of Angola.
Mr. Lavrov said the talks should include presidential candidates from the country’s major parties, which would likely include the Party of Regions of the former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. “We are deeply convinced, and this conviction has not been refuted by anyone so far, it is impossible to calm down the situation and turn it onto the path of national dialogue if Ukrainian authorities continue ignoring interests of the southeast regions of the country,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Mr. Avakov, the acting interior minister, portrayed the expulsion of protesters in Kharkiv as a victory. On Facebook, he wrote: “We, the new team in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, choose to guard the integrity and independence of Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine.”
Hundreds of pro-Russian demonstrators continued to occupy the government administration building in Donetsk, as well as government buildings in other cities.
The seizure of government buildings by pro-Russian protesters has provided a particular public relations challenge for the new Ukrainian government because demonstrators in Kiev who helped oust Mr. Yanukovychhad long occupied government buildings in the capital, including City Hall.
The latest crisis began when several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators in the city of Donetsk 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.