Europe warns Russia over Ukraine rebel poll

Europe on Monday warned Russia to respect Ukraine`s unity as Moscow piled pressure on Kiev by recognising controversial rebel polls aimed at giving legitimacy to a bloody pro-Kremlin insurgency.

Donetsk: Europe on Monday warned Russia to respect Ukraine`s unity as Moscow piled pressure on Kiev by recognising controversial rebel polls aimed at giving legitimacy to a bloody pro-Kremlin insurgency.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the elections went "against the letter and spirit" of an internationally brokered truce deal in September that was meant to halt the war in eastern Ukraine.

Steinmeier urged Russia to respect "the unity of Ukraine."

"We will judge Russia and President Vladimir Putin on their statements that the unity of Ukraine cannot be called into question," he said on Twitter.

Earlier, EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini issued a statement slamming the polls that saw the rebels` Kremlin-backed leadership cruise to an entirely-expected victory as "a new obstacle on the path towards peace in Ukraine."

The angry European response, likely to be echoed in Washington, raised the temperature in the West`s dispute with Russia over its support for separatists who have torn a swathe of Ukraine`s industrial heartland out from the pro-Western government`s control.

Russia, which risks an intensifying of already punishing EU and US sanctions, ignored Western appeals ahead of the vote and gave its full backing to elections that the Ukrainian government branded an illegal "farce."

"Those elected have received a mandate to resolve the practical issues of re-establishing normal life in the region," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russia`s deputy foreign minister piled further pressure on Kiev by demanding it call a definitive end to military operations in the east and talk to the rebels on equal terms.

"This work can bring results only on condition of equal dialogue based on mutual respect, with Kiev renouncing military operations and the notorious `anti-terror operation`," Grigory Karasin told state news agency TASS.Russia is likely to be alone in recognising the vote that was held under the watchful eyes of rebel gunmen and boycotted by mainstream international observers.

Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine described the polls as a step towards formalising their de facto independence from Ukraine after seven months of fighting in which the United Nations says more than 4,000 people have died.

The separatist uprisings in a corner of Ukraine with long-held pro-Russian leanings started shortly after Russian troops invaded and annexed Crimea, a southern Ukrainian region, in March.

Russia justified that dramatic seizure of its neighbour`s territory by saying it needed to protect ethnic Russians from a surge of Ukrainian nationalism during the previous month`s pro-Western revolution in the capital Kiev.

In the east, Russia says it only provides political and humanitarian aid to the rebels, despite allegations it has sent in weapons and even its own army to back up the insurgency.

Segments of the forces arrayed against Ukraine`s soldiers appear to be as heavily armed and well organised as a fully equipped regular army and long columns of military trucks have frequently been seen in the area of the Ukraine-Russia border.

Kiev on Monday repeated claims that it was seeing "intensive" movements of troops and weapons across the frontier, fuelling fears that rebels could be readying to follow through on threats to seize a crucial port city.

AFP journalists in rebel stronghold Donetsk reported the situation was calm but Ukraine`s military claimed they had beaten back an attack on a checkpoint to the north of the city, killing four rebel fighters.

Under the September truce, whose signatories included Russia, both sides were meant to cease fire as the start of a process leading to autonomy for the pro-Russian areas.

But that ceasefire has been frequently broken by both sides and now looks increasingly in the balance.

Emboldened by the staging of their vote rebel leaders indicated they were in little mood for compromise with Kiev.

"Ukraine does not want peace, as it claims. Obviously it is playing a double game," the newly elected president of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People`s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, told journalists.

Zakharchenko, already the undisputed commander in the city of Donetsk, took 75 percent of the roughly one million votes cast, according to final results released by rebel election officials.

The 38-year-old former electrician is set to be officially inaugurated as the rebel republic`s leader Tuesday.

In neighbouring Lugansk region, current insurgent supremo Igor Plotnitsky, a former Soviet army officer, picked up some 63 percent, the rebels said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko blasted the ballot as a "farce that is being conducted under the threat of tanks and guns".