Russia said Monday it "respects" the result of weekend independence votes in east Ukraine denounced by the West, after separatists claimed resounding victories, and called for talks between the rebels and Kiev.
As the European Union announced new sanctions against Russians involved in the crisis, the Kremlin said it respected the votes in two eastern provinces, but left the door open to a negotiated solution.
Germany meanwhile announced plans for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to travel Tuesday to Kiev and eastern Ukraine to support efforts to mediate a "national dialogue" between Kiev and pro-Moscow groups.
"Moscow respects the expression of the people's will in Donetsk and Lugansk," President Vladimir Putin's office said in a statement, calling for "the results to be implemented in a civilized manner, without any repeat of violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk."
Denounced by the Kiev government and the West as "a farce", the contentious vote was hastily organized and held with no international observers.
It deepened a crisis that has brought Russia's relations with the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
The United States and other Western countries have said they will not recognize the outcome of the vote, which comes some two months after Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.
"The farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes," Ukraine's interim President Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.
He however repeated his desire to "continue dialogue with those in the east of Ukraine who have no blood on their hands and who are ready to defend their goals in a legitimate way."
Separatist officials in Donetsk said 89 percent of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine in Sunday's referendum, with a turnout of 75 percent.
Rebel officials in Lugansk said 94 percent had backed independence.
"We have received sovereignty, the right to decide independently to enter into a confederation or federation with any country," the self-styled governor of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, told reporters Monday.
The rebels prevented foreign media from observing ballot counting and voting took place with no neutral monitors, incomplete electoral rolls, and a haphazard registration procedure that did nothing to prevent multiple voting.
The two industrial regions are home to seven million people, out of Ukraine's total population of 46 million.
There was widespread confusion in the regions Monday about what could happen next in the crisis.
"For me, I am still in Ukraine but who knows where we will be tomorrow — it is a mad house," pensioner Anna told AFP in Donetsk.
"I was born in this country, my children were born here and my grandchildren, and I just want there to be peace."
Pushilin also Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, seen as vital to restoring order, "will not happen" in Donetsk.
The crisis has raised fears of a violent breakup of Ukraine and the possibility of a civil war on Europe's eastern edge.
An agreement between Moscow, Kiev, Washington and the EU in Geneva last month did little to ease tensions and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday there was no point in further discussions without the separatists.
"Holding another four-way meeting makes little sense," Lavrov said. "We do not want to repeat what has already taken place... but to move on to talks between Kiev and its opponents in the eastern regions of Ukraine."
Kiev and Western leaders have accused Moscow of backing the rebels and on Monday EU foreign ministers announced new sanctions against Russians and Crimeans involved in the crisis.
A further 13 people and two companies were listed as subject to a European Union asset freeze and visa ban, EU diplomats said.
There were no immediate details available but sources said two Ukrainian firms in Crimea confiscated following the March annexation of the peninsula by Russia were on the list.
Heading into talks, the ministers condemned Sunday's votes as illegitimate, saying the only way forward was with the presidential election.
"I hope we will strongly support those elections at the council today," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "In the vast majority of Ukraine there is no difficulty with the elections going ahead."
The EU has so far imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 48 Russians and Ukrainians for violating or threatening Ukraine's territorial integrity.
For the first time in the months-long crisis, EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy, who represents the bloc's 28 leaders, will fly to Kiev on Monday to meet the interim government.
The head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted Monday that Russia had expressed "respect but not recognition" of the separatist votes.
"We have seen in Moscow that there is an openness for a dialogue," said Swiss President and acting OSCE chief Didier Burkhalter, who met with Putin last week.
The OSCE is shepherding efforts to resolve the crisis and is to bring together the different parties in Kiev on Wednesday.
Isolated violence flared during voting in some parts of eastern Ukraine, where troops have been waging an offensive against well-armed rebels in control of several towns.
On Monday, sporadic explosions and gunfire could be heard in the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, as Ukraine's military pressed its siege of the rebel-held town.
Anti-Kiev sentiment was riding high in the regions after a fierce firefight between troops and rebels that left several dead in the city of Mariupol on Friday.
Ukrainian officials have said 49 people have died in the Donetsk region since the start of the unrest, and deadly clashes and an inferno in Odessa killed at least 42 people earlier this month.
© AFP 2014