Pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine intensified their defiance against Kiev on Wednesday, seizing half a dozen armored vehicles and parading them through towns of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk.

The Financial Times reports Pro-Russia forces intensify defiance in eastern Ukraine

The escalating tension, a day after Kiev launched special operations against the separatists, prompted Nato to bolster its military presence on its eastern border, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary-general announced on Wednesday.

Hundreds of local people in the centre of Kramatorsk cheered the vehicles and the roughly 100 militia men on them as they drove on to nearby Slavyansk. The defence ministry said the troops were guarded by “people in uniforms who have no relation to Ukraine’s armed forces”.

The crowd cheering the pro-Russia forces cried “Donbas, Donbas”, referring to the region of Donetsk, as they chatted excitedly and took photos on their phones. Some locals said the forces were troops from Kiev that had switched sides. More likely, they were more of the “green men” militants who took control of a series of government buildings in the region in recent days. There was no sign of struggle.

Unidentified armed militants had seized the mayor’s office in Donetsk, a large regional capital where pro-Russia separatists nearly two weeks ago seized the regional government building, news agencies reported on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether the group was allied with separatists that have in past days seized about 10 regional government buildings in eastern Ukrainian cities.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk told the cabinet that a newly formed “constitutional commission” would swiftly draft constitutional changes delegating more governing power from Kiev’s central government to regional legislatures and administrations.

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry’s human rights representative, was quoted as saying: “To all appearances, events [in Ukraine] are beginning to develop under the worst-case scenario.” Earlier, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed Ukraine was close to “civil war”.

The comments from Moscow heightened concerns that any bloodshed resulting from attempts by the Kiev authorities to retake control of eastern Ukrainian cities could prompt direct military intervention by Russia.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock