By Justin Sink - 05/14/14 01:27 PM EDT
The White House on Wednesday dismissed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's assertion that Ukraine was "close to a civil war," and insisted that plans for upcoming elections were "on track."
"Foreign Minister Lavrov said that in the context of saying that elections should not go forward, which is a convenient position to take when you've actively exacerbated and stoked tensions and instability within Ukraine, clearly in an effort to undermine those free and fair elections," press secretary Jay Carney said.
"When Ukrainians kill Ukrainians, I believe this is as close to a civil war as you can get," Lavrov said. He added that "in east and south of Ukraine there is a war, a real war, with heavy weaponry used."
"If this is conducive to free and fair elections, then I don't recognize what free and fair is," Lavrov said.
Carney said the U.S. believed election preparations were "consistent with preparations in other countries where recent elections have gone forward and been successful despite violence."
The U.S. and other Western powers have championed the May 25 presidential elections, hoping they help legitimize the transitional government and usher in a process where Kiev can deal with regions seeking autonomy consistent with international law.
The White House has threatened to levy broad sanctions against Moscow if officials determine that the Kremlin is responsible for undermining the election.
The government in Kiev began preliminary discussions on constitutional reforms aimed at greater autonomy this week, but pro-Russian separatists have complained that they are being excluded from the process.
Carney defended that decision at the White House on Wednesday, arguing that some representatives from regions where separatists had gained hold were being included.
"We understand certainly the unwillingness of the Ukrainian government to have participants in these roundtables who literally have blood on their hands," Carney said.
"But those who represent the regions where there are issues that merit serious dialogue around constitutional reform and levels of autonomy for different regions as it relates to the center are certainly part of this effort, and we commend it," he added.