Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk did not mince words on Friday as he invoked the possibility that the crisis in Ukraine could quickly spiral out of control and spark a Third World War.
"The world has not yet forgotten World War Two, but Russia already wants to start World War Three," Yatseniuk told his cabinet in remarks broadcast live from Kiev. "Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe."
Tensions in the former Soviet-bloc country returned to high levels on Thursday following assaults on outposts manned by pro-Russian Ukrainians in the east by special forces sent by the Kiev government. At least five people were reported killed in one clash.
That incident and other movements by Ukraine soldiers against those in the east demanding referendums to decide their future political affiliations spurred Russian President Vladimir Putin to say that further violence would result in unspecified "consequences."
At the diplomatic level, the situation continues to deteriooriate as Russian, U.S., and Ukraine officials trade threats as the detente reached in Geneva last weeks begins to rapidly fade.
"The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in response to new threats of sanctions coming from the Obama administration.
As Reuters reports:
Yatseniuk took office in February after pro-European protests prompted the Kremlin-backed president to flee to Russia.
Ukraine plans to hold an election to replace Viktor Yanukovich on May 25, but the Russian-speaking east of the country has been disrupted by pro-Moscow militants who have taken over the city of Slaviansk and public buildings elsewhere, demanding to follow Crimea into being annexed by Russia.
Russia denies involvement but has denounced the Ukrainian government, which it says is illegitimate and backed by "fascist" Ukrainian nationalists, and has threatened to move in to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in Ukraine.