Are you sure?

Russia slams Europe election watchdog

Russia called for a fundamental reform of Europe's main election monitor after it threatened to withdraw from observing a presidential vote because of restrictions set by Moscow.

Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been unable to agree the amount of time monitors need to observe the campaign for the election, which an ally of President Vladimir Putin is expected to win.

This unwillingness to accept Moscow's invitation was “more evidence of the necessity of fundamental reform of this OSCE institution,” Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.

The OSCE's election monitoring body this week turned down a Russian compromise to let observers come on February 20 because it would not give them enough time to assess the campaign which started on February 2.

The OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) wants observers to be in Russia by February 15 at the latest.

“It is only possible to express regret (that the Russian offer was rejected),” First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass. “We hope that negotiations will be continued.”

Russian officials say the election watchdog is playing political games in an attempt to undermine the vote.

In a parliamentary election in December, the OSCE's election body refused to monitor the vote because it said restrictions imposed by Russia had prevented it doing its job properly.

Putin accused the United States of trying to undermine the legitimacy of the parliamentary vote by pushing the OSCE's monitoring arm to pull out of the vote.

Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev is expected to win the election easily, though opponents say the vote is unfair because the 42-year-old first deputy prime minister is given blanket coverage on state television.

Curtis Budden, spokesman for ODIHR, said the body was seeking further concessions from Russia.

“We are moving ahead with what we have been given, that is the logistical team are entering the country to prepare the way,” Budden said. The logistics team are not observers.

He said there was still no word about 15 Russian visas needed for advance observers who wanted to enter Russia later in the week. (