Russia's election chief dismissed concerns on Tuesday about Moscow's curb on international election monitors, saying fewer foreign observers could still ensure a fair parliamentary vote in December.
"Tell me where in any international or internal (Russian) document it is written that the legitimacy of the elections depends on the number of international observers," said Vladimir Churov, head of Russia's Central Electoral Commission.
Europe's main democracy watchdog, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said last week that Moscow had imposed "unprecedented" restrictions on its mission.
The OSCE said Russia had invited a maximum of 70 observers for a short-term mission to December's vote -- less than a quarter of the number sent for the last such elections in 2003, and for a shorter period.
The United States has described Russia's restrictions on the number of election monitors as a "negative" development.
Russia says the United States limits foreign observers at its elections and that Washington fails to understand that Russia is a sovereign country with its own democracy.
"The possibility of unhindered, wide scale observation is ensured not by the number of observers, but by their preparation," said Churov, who used to work with Putin in St. Petersburg.
He said Russia had provided complete party candidate lists and an electoral map to help preparations.
December's parliamentary vote is seen inside Russia as a referendum on President Vladimir Putin, who is running as the top candidate from the biggest party in parliament.
Many Western governments view the OSCE's assessment as the definitive verdict on whether a vote is free or fair. At Russia's last parliamentary vote in 2003 the observation mission said that vote failed to meet some democratic standards.
Russian opposition leaders say they are largely ignored by state television channels and say that leaves them cut off from the majority of the population.
Churov said 1,168 foreign election observers were accredited four years ago, a number sufficient to cover a sampling of 95,000 polling places across 8,000 kilometres and 11 time zones.
He said a qualified observer generally attends 20 polling places on election day.
"We didn't give observers electoral maps in vain. The observation mission has to choose those regions it wishes to visit and to look at," Churov said. ( Reuters )