MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it reserved the right to protect compatriots in eastern Ukraine after clashes in the city of Donetsk in which one person was killed.
The Foreign Ministry said Thursday’s violence in the industrial city, where many people speak Russian, showed the Ukrainian authorities had lost control.
A 22-year-old man was stabbed to death in the clashes between pro-Russian protesters and a crowd favoring European integration and denouncing Russian forces’ seizure of Ukraine’s southern region of Crimea.
“Russia is aware of its responsibility for the lives of compatriots and fellow citizens in Ukraine and reserves the right to take people under its protection,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Implying the pro-Russian protesters were not to blame, the ministry said peaceful protesters had been attacked by right-wing groups armed with pneumatic guns and batons who arrived from other parts of Ukraine.
Witnesses, however, said the pro-Russian demonstrators threw eggs, smoke bombs and other missiles and broke through a police cordon to beat their opponents with batons.
The death was the first reported in recent Ukrainian violence outside the capital, Kiev. Police detained four people accused of fomenting the clashes.
The right-wing party Svoboda, hostile to Russian policy, said the dead man was one of its local activists.
Donetsk, a city of 1 million, was calm on Friday morning.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of supporting groups in the Donetsk region which favor rule from Moscow and of sending militants over the border.
The Kremlin says its intervention in favor of ethnic Russians in Crimea was prompted by the removal of President Viktor Yanukovich in what it describes as a coup staged by right-wing nationalists.
Parliament has given President Vladimir Putin the right to use the armed forces to protect Russians in Ukraine if necessary.
Reporting By Katya Golubkova, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Steve Gutterman