Ukraine security service says it has detained 60 pro-Russian protesters

Law enforcement officers block a bus with unidentified people in Kharkiv region
Law enforcement officers block a bus with unidentified people who, according to the State Security Service of Ukraine, were sent by pro-Russian political forces to stage protests in the eastern city of Kharkiv, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this picture released April 21, 2021. Press service of State Security Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

April 21, 2021

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s state security service said on Wednesday it had detained around 60 people that pro-Russian political forces had sent to stage protests in the eastern city of Kharkiv as a way to “justify possible acts of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Ukraine, its Western allies and NATO have accused Russia of a provocative build-up of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea, while Russia has accused the United States and NATO of provocative activity in the Black Sea region.

The SBU security service said those detained had been dispatched to stir up public anger in Kharkiv, one of the largest cities in Ukraine, located 300 km (186 miles) from territory seized by pro-Russian separatists in 2014. It did not elaborate or provide evidence.

“These groups were sent to Kharkiv by one of the pro-Russian political forces to hold protest actions in the city, as well as provoke public discontent and massive illegal actions during the regular session of the Kharkiv city council,” SBU said.

It added that the actions were aimed at destabilising the situation in the region and “creating a picture beneficial to the Russian leadership to justify possible acts of aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.”

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for clashes in the Donbass region in the southeast, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict Ukraine says has killed 14,000 people since 2014, when pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Hugh Lawson)