By Mick Krever, CNN
Russia is “financing subversion [in Ukraine] using the pretext of ethnic problems,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour, in an interview on Tuesday.
Those alleged ethnic problems, Sikorski said, “are non-existent.”
Pro-Russian protesters seized government buildings in three eastern Ukrainian cities – Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv – on Sunday.
Rebels occupying Donetsk's regional government building Monday declared a "people's republic" and called for a referendum on secession from Ukraine to be held by May 11.
“In Crimea and in east Ukraine everybody speaks Russian. The media are Russian and until now there were no ethnic problems there.”
“There are acceptable ways of dealing with ethnic issues,” Sikorski said. “What’s happening in Ukraine is unacceptable.”
Many are concerned that Russia could use the unrest in eastern Ukraine as a pretext for moving in militarily.
If Russia does do that, Sikorski said, “we will go to ‘stage three,’ which means economic sanctions.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday threatened sanctions targeting Russia's banking, energy, mining and arms sectors if the Russians "cross over" into eastern Ukraine.
“Traditionally what happens is the U.S. goes first and then the European Union follows,” Sikorski said, by way of predicting Europe’s actions.
Because of Europe’s greater economic reliance on Russian trade, he told Pleitgen, “American leadership on this is understandable.”
Poland has been particularly outspoken on the Ukraine issue, going so far as to calling a meeting of NATO on the pretext of fearing for its security.
“We were partitioned by Russia in the eighteenth century – literally our country was occupied. And this was also done on the pretext of protecting national minorities.”
“Russia always comes to the assistance of national minorities rather than invading. So it’s an old story. It’s like watching an opera whose libretto is known in advance.”