May 22, 2014 / 11:27 AM / 3 years ago

Russia says Kiev stepping up operation in eastern Ukraine

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday that Ukraine's pro-Western interim government had stepped up military operation in the east of the country and accused it of failing to implement measures aimed at ending the crisis.

"Kiev has not only not ceased but has increased the punitive operation against its own people and is firing at cities in the east," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news conference.

At least eight Ukrainian security personnel were killed and 18 wounded in overnight clashes with pro-Russian separatists in the east, three days before a presidential election that the rebels say they will disrupt.

Russia has repeatedly called on the government to halt armed operations against the separatists and has said the election will only exacerbate the situation in Ukraine if the violence continues.

Lukashevich said the vote would be a step in the right direction if all Ukrainian are able to freely express their will, but he added: "There are big problems with implementation of this democratic principle."

He said the authorities in Kiev "do not want" to take steps to ease tension that have been proposed by the current head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Writing by Steve Gutterman,; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Angus MacSwan

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