Secretary of State John Kerry warned of new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday and compared the situation in eastern Ukraine to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the protests in eastern Ukraine "could be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea."
He said that the pro-Russian demonstrators who have taken over government buildings there are "provocateurs" sent to create chaos.
If the situation continues to escalate, Kerry raised the prospect of sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy such as banking and energy. "That's serious business," Kerry said.
In an attempt to deescalate, though, Kerry announced that he will meet next week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian officials together.
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized the administration's handling of the situation, referring back to the 2009 "reset button" and saying, "Somebody hit the wrong button."
Risch said Russia continues to outmaneuver the United States. "We’ve seen this movie over and over again," he said.
Kerry hit back strongly against the idea the U.S. is weak, comparing the situation to the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. "Georgia happened under George Bush and he didn't even bring a sanction," Kerry said.
He raised his voice to say the American people don't want to go to war over Crimea. "Is there any member of this committee that believes that? I don’t think so," he said.
A White House spokesman said Tuesday that administration officials could not independently confirm reports from Ukraine's State Security Service that protesters in the eastern city of Luhansk had seized a government building and were holding hostages.
"We would certainly, as we have made clear, oppose any violence, any taking of hostages, any placement of explosives in a building, as has been reported, but we don't have independent confirmation," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Carney said Kerry and Obama planned to discuss the crisis, along with developments in the Middle East, during a meeting Tuesday at the White House.
--Justin Sink contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:10 p.m.