Russia accuses Ukraine of mobilising artillery, feigning negotiations

MOSCOW, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Russia accused Ukraine on Thursday of moving heavy artillery towards the front line of fighting with pro-Russian separatists and failing to engage in a peace process, in a new escalation of hostile rhetoric towards Kyiv.

The remarks by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova gave no sign that Moscow is willing to tone down its bitter criticism of Ukraine despite a two-hour call this week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden.

"Negotiations on a peaceful settlement have practically hit a dead end," Zakharova told reporters, referring to the seven-year conflict between Ukrainian and separatist forces in the eastern Donbass region.

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The ministry's Twitter feed, quoting Zakharova, said: "With the support of NATO countries pumping the country with weapons, Kiev is building up its contingent on the line of contact in Donbass."

She said Ukraine was only "imitating" the process of fulfilling its obligations under the 2014 and 2015 Minsk accords designed to end the conflict.

There was no immediate response from the Ukrainian side. Kyiv has denied Russian accusations it plans to seize back territory by force and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said this week that he was hopeful of reaching a new ceasefire deal.

Tuesday's U.S.-Russian call was dominated by tensions over Ukraine, with Biden voicing concern about a Russian military build-up near the border and telling Putin that Moscow would face serious economic consequences if it invaded.

Putin has said talk of an invasion is "provocative" and accused Ukraine and NATO of fanning tensions.

The head of the Russian armed forces, Valery Gerasimov, was quoted by Russian news agencies as telling foreign military attaches that the situation in eastern Ukraine was escalating and Kyiv was to blame.

"Deliveries of helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and airplanes to Ukraine are pushing the Ukrainian authorities to take sharp and dangerous steps," he said.

"Any provocations of the Ukrainian authorities by way of a forced settlement of the problems of Donbass will be suppressed."

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Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth Writing by Mark Trevelyan Editing by Frances Kerry

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