VIENNA (AP) — Russia on Friday accepted the deployment of an international monitoring team to Ukraine that officials said will have free access to regions throughout the country. But a senior Russian envoy said that doesn't include Crimea, which his country claims as its own.
The development followed more than a week of stonewalling by Russia of a push by all other members of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to send such a mission, which they hope will prevent an escalation of tensions in Ukraine's east and south — regions that have large Russian-speaking populations.
Friday's decision calls for advance teams to be deployed within 24 hours. The mission, which has a six-month mandate, initially will consist of 100 observers. Up to 400 extra monitors could be deployed if necessary.
The OSCE said the civilian observer team will gather information and report on the security situation "throughout the country."
It didn't specify whether that included Crimea, which Russia is in the process of formally annexing.
Andrei Kelin, Russia's chief OSCE envoy, said the peninsula was off limits for the observers because "Crimea is a part of the Russian Federation."
But U.S. chief envoy Daniel Baer told reporters said that because "Crimea is Ukraine ... they should have access to Crimea."
The OSCE makes most decisions by consensus. Russia's approval appeared to signify that it was ready to work toward easing sanctions with its goal of annexing Crimea nearly accomplished.
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that — although the decision on the monitors is "not the end of the crisis ... it is a step that helps support our efforts toward de-escalation."
Two previous observer teams — unarmed military missions — didn't need Russian approval because they were asked for by Ukraine under a special provision exempting them from the normal consensus decisions the OSCE works through. They returned without carrying out their mission of monitoring Crimea after being stopped from entering repeatedly over the past two weeks by pro-Russian forces.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic arrived in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, Friday on a two-day visit to lay the groundwork for a U.N. human rights monitoring mission in the peninsula, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The U.N. has four international monitors and seven national monitors in Ukraine — a number that will increase — and is already operating in two major cities in the pro-Russian east, Donetsk and Kharkiv, Dujarric said.
Simonovic plans to visit the port of Sevastopol on Saturday for further meetings before returning to Kiev, the office said.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and AP video journalist Philipp Jenne in Vienna contributed to this report.