By Jeremy Herb
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday urged Russia to show restraint and caution toward the Ukraine so it doesn’t escalate tensions there.
As Russia conducted large military exercises near its border with Ukraine, armed men seized control of government buildings in the Ukrainian region of Crimea on Thursday and raised Russia’s flag.
"Until we know more details, what really happened, who's in charge, the focus should be on let's keep the tensions down, let's see no provocative actions by anyone, any military," Hagel said.
The Defense secretary said he was concerned that Russia’s actions could be misinterpreted during a “delicate time” in Ukraine.
There were reports Thursday that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had surfaced in Moscow and claimed he was Ukraine’s legitimate leader.
Hagel said his staff was attempting to set up a phone call with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the next day or two, according to the AP.
"We have other connecting points, and we're talking with the Russians through other government-to- government channels," Hagel said.
The United States warned on Wednesday any “outside actors” should “respect” Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stern warning to Russia as it ramped up its military operations.
Hagel said that the U.S. was monitoring the Russian military maneuvers.