Russia voices alarm over sharp increase of Donbass shelling

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MOSCOW, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced alarm on Friday over a sharp increase in shelling in eastern Ukraine and accused the OSCE special monitoring mission of glossing over what he said were Ukrainian violations of the peace process.

Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists have been fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine since 2014 in a conflict that Kyiv says has claimed some 15,000 lives.

Washington and its allies have raised fears that the upsurge in violence in the Donbass could form part of a Russian pretext to invade Ukraine. Tensions are already high over a Russian military buildup to the north, east and south of Ukraine.

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"We are very concerned by the reports of recent days - yesterday and the day before there was a sharp increase in shelling using weapons that are prohibited under the Minsk agreements," Lavrov said, referring to peace accords aimed at ending the conflict.

"So far we are seeing the special monitoring mission is doing its best to smooth over all questions that point to the blame of Ukraine's armed forces," he told a news conference.

Ukraine's military on Friday denied violating the Minsk peace process and accused Moscow of waging an information war to say that Kyiv was shelling civilians, allegations it said were lies and designed to provoke it.

Russia has said it is pulling some troops away from areas near its borders with Ukraine following military exercises, but the West says that Moscow, on the contrary, is still building up its forces.

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Reporting by Oksana Kobzeva, Andrey Ostroukh, Natalia Zinets; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones

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