So let's see if we understand. In regard to the December parliamentary elections in Russia, Vladimir Putin has:
- banned various parties and candidates outright from the ballot
- seized truckloads of opposition campaign literature
- refused to allow his party to engage in debates
- severely restricted the ability of foreign observers to scrutinize the polls
- beaten and arrested opposition party leaders
- imposed price controls to hide the effects of chronic inflation
And, while Russia has ever right to intervene in elections in Ukraine and Georgia, the U.S. is venal felon for attempting to do so in neo-Soviet Russia?
Ummm . . . OK. The Times of London reports:
Vladimir Putin accused the United States today of plotting to discredit the results of parliamentary elections in Russia. President Putin claimed that the US had pressed international observers to cancel a monitoring mission to Russia and cautioned that Moscow's future relations with Washington would be affected. Mr Putin hit out as the Federation Council, Russia's Senate, announced March 2 as the date of the next presidential election. He is barred by the Russian Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term.
Today's blunt allegation signalled a new chilling of relations with America as the pro-Kremlin United Russia party heads for a sweeping victory in the elections to the Duma on Sunday. Europe's principal election watchdog, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), abandoned efforts to monitor the vote ten days ago after accusing Moscow of obstructing its work. It is the elections arm of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia and the US among its 56 members. Mr Putin told a meeting of United Russia supporters in St Petersburg that the US had been behind the decision in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the election.
“Information available to us suggests that this has been done yet again on the recommendation of the US State Department and this will be taken into account in our inter-state relations with that country,” he said. “Their goal is to make the elections illegitimate. But they will fail again to attain this goal.” Urdur Gunnarsdottir, an ODIHR spokeswoman, said that Mr Putin's claims were “nonsense” and that the decision to withdraw the mission had not been made “on the recommendation or co-ordinated with any government”.
The growing harshness of Mr Putin's rhetoric against Europe and the US, however, suggests that the Kremlin's campaign to install a successor in the presidential elections will be based on antagonism to the West. Mr Putin described his opponents last week as “jackals” in the pay of foreign governments to stir up a revolution. The chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission today ruled out one ruse to let Mr Putin seek a third term. Vladimir Churov said that the law did not permit a president to step down early and seek re-election while a caretaker took his place.
Candidates have 25 days from the announcement of the poll date to register for the election. Opinion polls show that growing numbers of Russians believe that Mr Putin will back Viktor Zubkov, 66, the bureaucrat that he plucked from obscurity in September to become Prime Minister. Many analysts are convinced that Mr Zubkov would become president for only a short time before resigning for “health reasons” and paving the way for Mr Putin to return to the Kremlin. The ODIHR cancelled its visit after complaining that Moscow had failed to issue visas in time and had limited the organisation to 70 observers. It sent more than 400 monitors to parliamentary elections in 2003.
The State Department accused Moscow of deliberately impeding the OSCE's ability to monitor the vote. Russia blamed the OSCE. A crackdown by riot police on weekend protests against Mr Putin drew sharp criticism from the European Commission today. Hundreds were arrested in Moscow and St Petersburg and the former chess champion Garry Kasparov was jailed for five days. “I was very concerned to see reports of police harassment and arrests of politicians and peaceful demonstrators in Russia,” said José Manuel Barroso, the Commission's president. “The right to free speech and assembly are basic fundamental human rights and I very much regret that the authorities found it necessary to take such heavy-handed action.”
Boris Nemtsov, one of the politicians arrested in St Petersburg, called the elections a sham. Mr Nemtsov, a candidate for the liberal Union of Right Forces, said: “There is absolutely no doubt that these elections will not be recognised anywhere in the world as free and democratic.”