Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow plans to recognize elections being organized on November 2 in eastern Ukraine in defiance of the government in Kyiv.
In an interview with the "Izvestia" daily published on October 28, Lavrov said: "We expect the elections will go ahead as agreed, and we will of course recognize the results."
Leaders of the pro-Russian insurgents in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said they will hold elections in their so-called "people's republics" to elect separate parliaments and their own leaders.
Kyiv, the United States, and several other countries have said those elections are illegitimate and will not be recognized.
However, Lavrov said the simultaneous elections would be "important from the point of view legitimating the authority" of the regions' pro-Russian leadership.
Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on October 28 that Russia has no reason not to recognize the planned elections in Donetsk and Luhansk.
A senior Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official criticized Russia's recognition of the planned elections, saying it "undermines" attempts to end a six-month conflict there.
Dmitro Kuleba told the AFP news agency on October 28 that "Russia's intentions directly contradict the Minsk [peace accord], undermine the agreed process on deescalation and peaceful resolution, and continue to weaken trust in [Russia] as a reliable international partner."
Voters in separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk did not take part in Ukraine's parliamentary elections on October 26 that saw pro-Western parties lead in the polls.
Ukraine has urged Russia to put pressure on the separatists not to hold rival elections in the eastern regions.
But both Lavrov and Peskov said they expected the elections in Donetsk and Luhanks will go ahead as planned.
Peskov also said Russia's influence on the separatists is "not limitless," and should not be "exaggerated."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said any local elections held in Ukraine must be conducted in accordance with Ukrainian laws, indicating Kyiv will not consider the polls planned for Donetsk or Luhansk to be legitimate.
Kyiv has offered three-year "self-rule" to parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, with local elections to be conducted on December 7.
Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence after Russia annexed Crimea in March.
A cease-fire agreed to last month has ended most hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where some 3,600 people died in five months of fighting.
With reporting by TASS, AFP, Interfax, and BBC