Russia has backed a contentious election held by separatists in eastern Ukraine, setting the stage for renewed diplomatic tensions with the West.

The Foreign Ministry said Monday that the vote in Donetsk and Luhansk gave elected representatives the authority to restore stability in regions unsettled by an armed separatist insurgency.

Plans for Sunday's vote had been sharply criticized by the EU and the U.S., which said it violated Ukrainian law and undermined a September cease-fire deal. In the vote, residents in Donetsk and Luhansk were choosing legislators and executives.

Vote results unveiled Monday showed Alexander Zakharchenko, the rebel leader in Donetsk, claiming an easy victory.

Despite the cease-fire agreement, fighting rages daily between government troops and rebel forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.