VIENNA (Reuters) - European security watchdog the OSCE prolonged the mandate of its observer mission at two Russian checkpoints on the border with Ukraine by three months on Thursday, the longest extension so far.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of sending weapons and soldiers to help pro-Russian separatists in the country's east during the conflict that began after the overthrow of Ukraine's Moscow-backed leader in February. Russia denies it.
Violence has lessened in recent weeks and Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the Ukraine crisis should be resolved as quickly as possible. His comments came two days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had made constructive moves toward reducing tensions.
The 57 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which include Ukraine, Russia and the United States, decided by consensus to extend the mandate of the mission at the Gukovo and Donetsk checkpoints until March 23.
The mission of 22 civilian observers was launched in July with a three-month mandate and had already been extended twice, in October and November, by one month at a time.
"The observers will report on the situation, including movements across the Russian-Ukrainian border at the two Russian checkpoints," the Vienna-based OSCE said in a statement.
The mandate would not change, it said, despite a U.S. call two months ago for an expanded role for the observer mission.
The OSCE also operates a separate, larger monitoring mission in Ukraine itself with international observers seeking to reduce tensions and report on the situation on the ground. That mission has a mandate also running until March.
Editing by Robin Pomeroy