WH Hints at Russian Provocation in Eastern Ukraine, But Announces No New Sanctions

By Patrick Goodenough | April 7, 2014 | 9:22 PM EDT

Activists wave Russian national flags on the balcony of the regional administration building decorated a banner reading "Donetsk Republic," in Donetsk, Ukraine, Monday, April 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko)

(CNSNews.com) – There is strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian demonstrators who seized local government facilities in eastern Ukraine at the weekend had been paid and were not locals, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday, hinting at a Russian hand behind the unrest.

But although the administration repeatedly has warned that further Russian violation of Ukrainian sovereignty would trigger tougher actions targeting specific sectors of its economy – and the president put into place the authorities for such measures – Carney said he had no new sanctions to announce.

“We can divine from the strong evidence that some demonstrators were paid and that they were not local residents,” Carney told a briefing. “And I think that at least suggests that outside forces, not local forces, were participating in on the effort to create these provocations.”

“We’re concerned about several escalatory moves in Ukraine the weekend, and we see those as a result of increased Russian pressure on Ukraine.”

Carney noted that pro-Russian demonstrators had taken over government buildings in three eastern cities, in one cases declaring the creation of a “people’s republic,” announcing a referendum next month on joining Russia, and inviting Moscow to deploy “military peacekeepers.”

“If Russia moves into Eastern Ukraine, either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation,” he said. “We call on President [Vladimir] Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine and we caution against further military intervention.”

Asked whether actions taken by Russia thus far “meet the threshold” for the U.S. to impose the sanctions against Russian economic sectors, Carney demurred.

“We have the authorities already to impose further sanctions, and the president and his team will continue to assess Russia’s actions and whether or not to impose those further sanctions,” he said.

“We’ve continued to monitor developments on the border and the positioning and disposition of Russian troops on the border, and that is a concern. But I’m not announcing new sanctions – we don’t – we have the – the authorities are there.”

Ukraine’s interim government on Monday characterized the weekend unrest as part of an orchestrated plot by Russia, with the goal of seizing further parts of the country.

In response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region the administration earlier imposed visa bans and asset freezes on senior Russian figures and sanctions against a key bank.

It also put into place authorities for further measures against sectors of the economy, and Obama said in The Hague late last month that they would be imposed should Russia encroach further into Ukrainian territory.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow