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Russian foreign minister says Ukraine close to civil war

KIEV -- Russia declared Wednesday that Ukraine was on the edge of civil war just as Kiev's leaders were to host Western-sponsored “national unity” talks to try to save the country from falling apart.

The discussions — which crucially do not involve the pro-Moscow rebels waging an armed insurgency in the east — come barely two weeks before Ukraine holds a presidential election that the West is scrambling to keep alive.

“When Ukrainians kill Ukrainians I believe this is as close to a civil war as you can get,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Bloomberg television.

“In east and south of Ukraine there is a war, a real war.”

Tensions remained high in the east after rebels killed seven Ukrainian soldiers in an ambush Tuesday, the deadliest single loss of life for the military since it launched an offensive against the separatists in April.

The latest bloodshed underscores the urgency of the new Western effort to resolve the escalating crisis on Europe's doorstep after the failure of a deal hammered out in Geneva last month.

There was also a stark warning from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development about the wider fallout from the deep economic gloom in both Ukraine and Russia.

European leaders have called for Wednesday's talks, being held under a roadmap drafted by the pan-European security body the OSCE, to be as inclusive as possible.

The meeting brings together government officials including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as well as lawmakers, former leaders and presidential candidates.

But rebels who have overrun more than a dozen towns in the east and proclaimed “sovereignty” in the industrial regions of Donetsk and Lugansk after hotly disputed weekend referendums are not invited.

'Dirty game'

A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said the leadership was open to “an inclusive national unity dialogue.”

“However, it is impossible to engage terrorists, whose objective is to destroy not only national unity but Ukrainian statehood,” he said, accusing Russia of playing a “dirty game.”

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