Russia urged Ukraine's leaders on Wednesday to talk directly to separatists to end the conflict in the east, but Kiev rejected the call and told Moscow to stop "playing games" aimed at legitimizing "terrorists."
Kiev and the West accuse Russia of destabilizing Ukraine by providing the rebels with money, arms and reinforcements. The West has imposed sanctions on Moscow over the conflict in which more than 4,000 people have been killed since mid-April.
Russia backs the separatists but denies it is directly involved in the conflict in the Donbass region.
"We are calling for the establishment of stable contacts between Kiev and Donbass representatives with the aim of reaching mutually acceptable agreements," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a policy address to the lower house of parliament in Moscow.
But Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk hit back, accusing Moscow of trying to push Ukraine into recognizing the pro-Russian rebels who are fighting government troops to split parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions from Kiev.
Speaking at a government meeting, Yatsenyuk declared Kiev would not speak directly to the separatists and repeated the phrase slowly in Russian for emphasis, saying: "We will not hold direct talks with your mercenaries."
A cease-fire was reached on Sept. 5 in the Belarusian capital of Minsk as part of a wider deal between Moscow, Kiev and the rebels under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In Minsk, a former president represented Kiev to avoid the government’s formal recognition of the rebels.
But the truce has been under constant pressure, with shelling from both sides and deaths of government troops and civilians reported daily. Kiev and the West accuse Russia of preparing the rebels for a renewed offensive by sending them tanks and troops, including several unmarked convoys that the OSCE spotted near Donetsk over the past week-and-a-half.
Russia has countered by saying Kiev’s decision to freeze $2.6 billion in government support to the separatist-held east and withdraw state employees could be a precursor to full-on war. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the deployment of additional troops to the east to defend cities still under government control.
Lavrov and president Vladimir Putin held talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Moscow on Tuesday but failed to overcome deep rifts over Ukraine.
Yatsenyuk called on Moscow to "stop playing games aimed at legitimizing bandits and terrorists."
"If you [Russia] want peace — fulfill the Minsk agreement," he said.
Lavrov said in Moscow that the "party of war" — supporters of Kiev's military campaign against the rebels — had tried to exclude the separatists from the peace effort and to "force the West to seek the consent of Russia to act as a side in the conflict."
"This is a completely counter-productive and provocative line that has no chance of succeeding," Lavrov said.
Al Jazeera and wire services