MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia announced Tuesday it will recognise separatist polls in Ukraine next weekend, fuelling tensions with the country’s newly elected pro-Western leaders as they negotiate on forming a coalition government.
The rebel elections on Sunday should “go ahead as agreed”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
“We will of course recognise the results,” he told the Izvestia daily.
Moscow rejects accusations in Kiev and Western capitals that it is behind the armed uprising in Ukraine’s industrial heartland in which some 3,700 people have been killed since April.
However, the decision to lend legitimacy to the rebels’ leadership vote was one of most overt acts of support so far for the two unrecognised “people’s republics” that insurgents are carving out in eastern Ukraine.
Senior Ukrainian foreign ministry official Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow was violating the peace deal it had itself sponsored in the Belarussian capital Minsk on September 5, ushering in an uneasy truce.
“Russia’s intentions directly contradict the Minsk accord, undermine the agreed process on deescalation and peaceful resolution, and continue to weaken trust in it (Russia) as a reliable international partner,” Kuleba said, calling the separatists “terrorists”.
The row followed an increase in ceasefire violations, including artillery exchanges, in the wake of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, where pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko’s allies won a convincing victory.
Artillery explosions and small arms fire could be heard into the early hours of Tuesday, an AFP correspondent in rebel-controlled Donetsk said.
The situation in Ukraine was to be discussed later Tuesday in Brussels, where European Union states were reviewing punishing sanctions imposed on Russia.