Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has rejected a Russian call for direct talks between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists, saying his government would not to talk to Moscow's "mercenaries."
Yatsenyuk made the remarks at a government meeting after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in the lower house of parliament on November 19, called for "establishing stable contacts between Kyiv and Donbas aimed at reaching mutually acceptable agreements."
Donbas is a term for an industrial section of eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels hold large parts of two provinces.
Yatsenyuk said in Russian, "We will not hold direct talks with your mercenaries."
He called on Moscow to "stop playing games aimed at legitimizing bandits and terrorists."
"If you want peace -- fulfill the Minsk agreement," Yatsenyuk said, referring to a September 5 agreement, which Russia signed off on, that imposed a cease-fire and set out steps toward peace.
Lavrov: Ukraine Is West's Fault
In his address to the State Duma, Lavrov said the conflict was the product of 25 years of selfish Western expansionism.
Lavrov said the West "must support the process of mutually acceptable agreements instead of supporting the party of war in Kyiv, closing its eyes on outrageous human rights violations, lawlessness, and war crimes."
Lavrov repeated Moscow's denials of involvement in an armed conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists that has killed more than 4,100 combatants and civilians since April.
He said the conflict is an internal issue for Ukraine and "all attempts to turn Russia into a party to the conflict are counterproductive and have no chance of success."
His live televised address to the Duma appeared aimed at assuring Russians that the Kremlin is in the right and fending off growing Western accusations of direct Russian military support for the separatists, who hold large parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"The Ukraine crisis is a consequence of the policy Western states have pursued for a quarter-century of strengthening their own security at the expense of the security of others and broadening the geopoltical space under their control," Lavrov said.
He spoke a day after President Vladimir Putin, who has used anti-Western words and actions to strengthen his grip on the country, said that the United States wanted to "subordinate" Russia and "solve its problems at our expense."
Lavrov tempered the anti-Western message by saying that there was no alternative to cooperation between Russia and the European Union, long its biggest trade partner.
But he blamed the EU for the strains and said Russia's relations with the West must be based on the assumption of equality, echoing a demand that Putin set out in a foreign-policy decree at the start of his third term in 2012.
Russia banned a broad range of food imports from the EU and the United States in August in retaliation for sanctions they imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
NATO: Russian Military Buildup
Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of sending weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine to aid the separatists.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on November 18 that there had been a "serious military buildup" both in eastern Ukraine and on the Russian side of the border, and urged Moscow to pull back its forces.
Kyiv and Western governments are concerned that Putin may want pro-Russian separatists to seize more ground in Ukraine or solidify control over the territory they hold, creating a "frozen conflict" that could destabilize the country, drain its economy, and crimp its pro-Western government for years.
On November 19, Putin said Russia is ready for cooperation with the United States so long as Washington treats Moscow as an equal, respects its interests, and refrains from interfering in its affairs.
Putin spoke at a ceremony during which he received the credentials of foreign envoys, including John Tefft, the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow.
Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is due to arrive in Ukraine on November 20 for a two-day visit. The U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, announced the dates for the "working visit" in a tweet.
The visit comes amid persistent tension over the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and UNIAN