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, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
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 (OSCE) to send such a mission, which they hope will prevent an escalation of tensions in Ukraine's east and south, where there are 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, according to AP.
The report said that the civilian observer team will gather information and report on the security situation "throughout the country." It did not specify whether that included Crimea, which Russia has annexed after a controversial referendum vote in the peninsula showed overwhelming support for Moscow over Ukraine. .
The OSCE, whose members also include European Union nations, Ukraine and the United States, makes decisions by consensus. Russia's approval could signify a slight de-escalation of tensions.
"This is not the end of the crisis, but it is a step that helps support our efforts toward de-escalation," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, according to AP.
Earlier on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill completing his country's annexation of Crimea.
Russia's takeover of Crimea has been met with sanctions from Washington and Europe.
On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on top Russian officials, and Putin retaliated by hitting top U.S. officials with sanctions of his own.
Russia’s newest sanctions bar nine American officials from entering Russia. The list includes House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Putin’s move is in line with a report earlier this week on U.S.-based website The Hill, which said that Putin would ban several U.S. senators and officials from visiting Russia.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)