With three weeks left for the March 2 presidential vote in Russia, Europe's top election watchdog has rejected an offer to send observers to monitor the nation's elections, intensifying tensions tightened last December when it refused to monitor the parliamentary elections.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly and the election division, the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) decided Thursday not to monitor Russia's presidential vote next month.
"We regret that circumstances prevent us from observing this election," said Spencer Oliver, secretary general of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, claiming there are restrictions imposed by Moscow on its observation mission.
"We made every effort in good faith to deploy our mission, even under the conditions imposed by the Russian authorities," ODIHR's Director Christian Strohal said in a statement.
"We have a responsibility to all 56 participating states to fulfill our mandate, and the Russian Federation has created limitations that are not conducive to undertaking election observation in accordance with it," he said.
The ODIHR, which also stayed away from the Russian parliamentary elections in December 2007 due to alleged restrictions, has been in disputes with Russia for weeks over its observation missions in the presidential election.
Russia has invited some 70 international observers from the ODIHR and agreed that some observers could arrive in Russia this week and the others mission start work on Feb. 20, an compromise rejected by the OSCE's elections arm.
Moscow's diplomats have expressed surprise over OSCE's refusal, saying Russia's elections pose not as an international problem that requires the most active monitoring and support and Russia has been unprecedentedly open to international election observation teams.
"The ODIHR administration bluntly refused the compromise. They did not give any coherent explanations to their position. We think that such actions of the ODIHR are not acceptable," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin.
Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee, said that he regrets the ODIHR's decision but believes that the election will meet Russian and international standards anyway.
"The ODIHR has once again tried to turn a simple situation into a scandal and a provocation," Russian news agencies quoted him as saying.
Russia regards OSCE's rejection as a "rejection of a constructive dialogue on solving issues related to political rights and freedoms, the reluctance to carry out its functions and failure to live up to the obligations set out in ODIHR's mandate," Central Elections Commission member Igor Borisov said in a comment published by the CEC press service.
"We would not like elections to be turned into a tool of putting political pressure on Russia, of yet another, traditional attempt to interpret their results to somebody's liking," said Oleg Morozov, deputy speaker of the State Duma, lower house of the parliament.
Russia has also invited observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as from individual countries such as Britain, Italy, Germany, Spain, the United States, Japan, Hungary, Mongolia and CIS member states.
Russia officially set out its presidential campaign on Feb. 2, with First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as a candidate favored to win the race for the country's top job, succeeding his close ally, incumbent President Vladimir Putin.
Candidates also include Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Liberal-Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Chairman of the Russian Democratic Party Andrei Bogdanov.
Two of those candidates, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, have both denounced OSCE's decision, saying it, however, will have no effect on the real results of the elections.
(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)