BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government rejected Russia's assertion that the exclusion of Crimea in an OSCE mission to Ukraine was a tacit admission by the pan-European security group that the peninsula now belonged to Russia.
Russia agreed on Friday with the 56 other members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send a six-month monitoring mission to Ukraine, but said it had no mandate in the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Moscow.
The Russian foreign ministry said on its website on Saturday that the OSCE mission's mandate "reflects the new political and legal realities and does not apply to the Crimea and Sevastopol, which became part of Russia".
Berlin quickly rejected this interpretation. A spokesman for the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to a question from Reuters: "The OSCE is expressly not casting into doubt the territorial integrity of Ukraine."
"The Russian foreign ministry's remark in misleading in this respect," said the German spokesman.
The United States initially said the OSCE mission of 100 civilian monitors which starts this weekend would be able to "work in Crimea and in all other parts of Ukraine".
After Russia contradicted this, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - who visited Kiev and the eastern city of Donetsk on Saturday - said the mission by the Vienna-based OSCE, which is tasked with preventing conflict and promoting democracy in Europe, would still constitute a positive step.
Ukraine, locked in a confrontation with its former Soviet overlord Russia over the annexation of Crimea, had pushed for OSCE monitors to be deployed on its territory, as did Western countries.
Russia, which is also an OSCE member, first objected to the mandate but ceded after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws completing Russia's annexation of Crimea on Friday.
The Kiev-based mission will in initially consist of 100 civilian monitors, which may later expand by another 400. It will first be deployed in nine places outside Kiev, including the city of Donetsk in the largely Russian-speaking east. There is no specific mention of Crimea in the OSCE mission's mandate.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Rosalind Russell)