( Reuters ) - Europe joined the United States on Monday in demanding Russia probe alleged abuses in an election won overwhelmingly by President Vladimir Putin's party, and Germany denounced the poll as undemocratic.
European states expressed alarm over the outcome of Sunday's parliamentary poll after rights watchdogs said the campaign had been marred by biased media coverage and abuse of government resources in favor of Putin's United Russia.
But European reaction was tempered by what analysts said was acknowledgement that Moscow, whose cooperation the West seeks in international disputes from Iran to Kosovo, was increasingly impervious to criticism from outside.
With almost all votes counted in the State Duma (lower house) election, Putin's United Russia had won 64.1 percent of votes -- nearly six times as many as his nearest rival -- amid allegations of electoral fraud and official obstruction of the work of international observers.
"It is vital that the Russian Central Election Commission urgently investigates all allegations of electoral abuses," Britain's foreign ministry said in a statement, echoing a similar call from Washington on Sunday.
It expressed disappointment that ODIHR (the OSCE's election arm) had not been able to observe the election. The ODIHR cancelled plans to monitor the poll after a row with Moscow over delays in issuing visas.
France took a similar line, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman expressing the hope that Moscow would "shed light" on the allegations of voting irregularities.
Sharper reaction came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, seen as less close to Putin than that of her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder.
"There can be no doubt. Measured by our standards, it was neither a free, fair nor democratic election," spokesman Thomas Steg told a regular news conference.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also criticized in unusually strong terms the election and demanded Russia clear up irregularities surrounding the vote.
The Kremlin said the vote provided a ringing endorsement of Putin, who is now expected to try and hold onto the reins of power after his term ends next year. But critics accused authorities of ensuring victory was never in doubt.
There was no immediate reaction from NATO or the European Union Presidency, but the EU commissioner responsible for ties between Brussels and Moscow said there had been clear abuses.
"We saw some violations of basic rights, notably free speech and assembly rights," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters in Berlin.
The 27-member EU wants to negotiate a new "strategic partnership" with Russia but is struggling to get to grips with an energy giant enjoying the fruits of high prices for oil and showing increasing assertiveness on the world stage.
"This election campaign was an illustration of what certain ideologies in Kremlin call managed democracy. The emphasis is on the first part of the concept," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on his website, citing biased reporting from "'made-to-order' TV channels" in Putin's favor.
Graham Watson, leader of the liberal faction in the European Parliament, said the election process showed Putin was "a populist with the trappings of a dictator."
"He is the same category as Hugo Chavez, only he is more dangerous," he added in a statement, likening Putin to the left-winger leader of oil-rich Venezuela.
Analysts in Brussels said the landslide victory for Putin's party would likely mean the EU having to deal with an even more self-confident Kremlin that would pursue a policy of "divide-and-rule" over Europe's national governments.
"I guess the attitude is one of unsurprised resignation," said Michael Emerson, Russian expert at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.
"I would guess that the first conclusion to be drawn by the EU countries is that they must carefully work together in their relations with Russia so that the image of weak division is not the one that prevails."