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BERLIN, March 24 Russia's stance on an OSCE
mission in Ukraine was the only encouraging signal to come out
of a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, a German government
Russia agreed on Friday with the 56 other members of the
OSCE rights and security group to send a monitoring mission to
Ukraine, but said the group had no mandate in Crimea, which
Russia annexed after voters on the Black Sea peninsula chose to
join Russia in a referendum dismissed by the West as a sham.
"There is an agreement between the chancellor and Putin that
the OSCE mission is a welcome step ... and from our point of
view, this is positive," German government spokesman Steffen
Seibert said on Monday. "The discussion did not yield any
progress on other issues."
Merkel sees the OSCE's decision to send a monitoring mission
to Ukraine as a "first step to avoid further escalation" of the
crisis, Seibert said.
Merkel pointed out "further worrying signs" to Putin such as
reports that Russian troops are gathering at the border with
Ukraine, said Seibert. She also told Putin that special
attention needed to be paid to the situation in Moldova.
NATO's top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had
built up a "very sizeable" force on its border with Ukraine and
Moscow may have a region in another ex-Soviet republic, Moldova,
in its sights after annexing Crimea.
Seibert also said Merkel had stressed Russia's
responsibility for avoiding deaths in the Crimea region.
"The chancellor underlined in this phone call that Russia,
due to its actions, is now de facto responsible for ensuring
that it does not come to bloodshed in Crimea."
"The way the Ukrainian military has been handled in Crimea
is therefore a reason for considerable concern," he added.
The two leaders agreed to remain in touch to try to increase
the chances of reaching a political solution, Seibert said.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin and Noah Barkin; Writing by Sarah
Marsh; Editing by Stephen Brown)