Tensions continued to escalate in eastern Ukraine Monday on the heels of protests over the weekend in which pro-Russia protesters seized government buildings in several cities.

From CNN:

Ukraine’s acting president accused Russia on Monday of trying to “dismember” his country, warning that uprisings in three cities echoed the events leading to the Russian annexation of Crimea three weeks ago.

Pro-Moscow protesters seized government buildings, raised Russian flags and declared new governments in the cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkov on Sunday. In a televised message, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said the revolts were led by “separatist groups coordinated by Russian special services.”

“Enemies of Ukraine are trying to play out the Crimean scenario, but we will not let this happen,” Turchynov said.

And Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the goal of the protesters is “to destabilize” the country, allowing “foreign troops to cross the border and seize the territory of the country.”

“We will not allow it,” Yatsenyuk said.

In some of these incidents, protesters demanded a referendum like the one recently seen in Crimea, according to the Washington Post.

In Donetsk, a group of people who broke into the regional administration building and spent the night there announced Monday that they were setting up a Donetsk People’s Republic. They and others who occupied buildings in Kharkiv were demanding a Crimean-style referendum.

The situation in Kharkiv appeared particularly dangerous after pro-Ukrainians from Kiev reportedly headed to the city early Monday. Fights were breaking out on Kharkiv’s main square Monday, local reporters said.

In Luhansk, police said some demonstrators entered the security services headquarters and seized guns. Police responded by setting up roadblocks around the city.

In an article published at The Guardian, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Russia is destabilizing Ukraine and accused the West of interfering.

Ukraine’s realities notwithstanding, massive support was provided to political movements promoting western influence, and it was done in direct breach of the Ukrainian constitution. This is what happened in 2004, when President Viktor Yushchenko won an unconstitutional third round of elections introduced under EU pressure. This time round, power in Kiev was seized undemocratically, through violent street protests conducted with the direct participation of ministers and other officials from the US and EU countries.

Assertions that Russia has undermined efforts to strengthen partnerships on the European continent do not correspond to the facts. On the contrary, our country has steadily promoted a system of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic area. We proposed signing a treaty to that effect, and advocated the creation of a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific which would also be open to post-Soviet countries.

In the meantime, western states, despite their repeated assurances to the contrary, have carried out successive waves of Nato enlargement, moved the alliance’s military infrastructure eastward and begun to implement antimissile defence plans. The EU’s Eastern Partnership programme is designed to bind the so-called focus states tightly to itself, shutting down the possibility of co-operation with Russia. Attempts by those who staged the secession of Kosovo from Serbia and of Mayotte from the Comoros to question the free will of Crimeans cannot be viewed as anything but a flagrant display of double standards. No less troubling is the pretence of not noticing that the main danger for the future of Ukraine is the spread of chaos by extremists and neo-Nazis.

Amid the continuing crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to meet with his counterparts from Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union sometime in the next 10 days in an effort to try and defuse tensions, according to the Associated Press (via ABC News).

In the White House press briefing Monday, spokesman Jay Carney echoed the claims of Ukraine officials regarding Russia’s alleged role in the recent protests.

From Reuters:

“We saw groups of pro-Russian demonstrators take over government buildings in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “There is strong evidence suggesting some of these demonstrators were paid and were not local residents.

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

The White House also issued a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaling the potential for additional sanctions if the situation escalates further.

Video report below from Reuters via ChicagoTribune.

[Featured image: Reuters video via CNN]