WH: Russia seeks 'to destabilize' Ukraine

On Wednesday the White House accused Russia of attempting to destabilize the situation in Ukraine as separatist protests grip eastern regions of the country.

"It’s clear that Russia has not played a helpful role in trying to reduce tensions in Ukraine, but rather, through a variety of actions, has sought to destabilize the situation in Ukraine," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Earlier in the day, acting Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that the separatist protests, now in their fourth day, would be resolved within 48 hours, either through negotiations or by force. Pro-Russian demonstrators have seized government buildings in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv and called for secession referendums.

"There are two opposite ways for resolving this conflict — a political dialogue and the heavy-handed approach. We are ready for both," he told official news agency Ukrinform, according to CNN.

Ukraine did not respond with force when Russian troops moved into the Crimean Peninsula earlier this year, taking over military bases and government buildings there. Following a successful secession referendum there, the Kremlin moved to formally annex the territory.

The U.S. and European countries have denounced the move as a violation of international law and imposed sanctions against officials linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House has vowed more significant sectoral sanctions if Russia moves further into Ukraine, and complained about the amassing of tens of thousands of Russian troops immediately across the border.

On Wednesday, Carney urged Russia to "pursue a path of deescalation to draw down its troops, return them to their pre-crisis positions and numbers; to engage directly with the government of Ukraine; and to allow international monitors to assess on the ground whether or not ethnic Russians are in any way having their rights compromised in parts of Ukraine."

He also offered support for the way the interim Ukrainian government was handling the crisis.

"The Ukrainian authorities continue to act professionally and with restraint," Carney said. "We admire that approach in a very difficult situation. The Ukrainian government has made clear that it is offering to resolve that situation through dialogue, and we support that approach."

The White House spokesman sidestepped questions about Putin's threat to shut off imports from Ukraine. At a Cabinet meeting, Putin sad Russia "continues to provide economic support and subsidize Ukraine’s economy with hundreds of millions and billions of dollars" but could not do so "forever," according to Bloomberg.

"I don’t have a specific reaction to that report," Carney said. "I would say that, again, we urge Russia to refrain from provocative actions and to instead pursue a path of de-escalation."