( dpa ) - Europe's main election monitoring body said Wednesday it would boycott the Russian presidential elections if not allowed access next week to prepare for the March 2 vote.
The Central Election Commission's (CEC) decision to limit the number of election observers and the time of their mission to three days before the vote had caused the European body to opt out of monitoring Russia's parliamentary vote in December.
The ODIHR, the election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Russia's restriction made it impossible for it to fufill its mandate.
"We will cancel the election monitoring mission if we do not obtain permission for a group of 20 observers to travel to Russia next week," news agency Interfax quoted ODIHR spokesman Curtis Budden as saying.
Russia has accused international election monitors of "meddling" in its domestic affairs and trying to tarnish Russia's image.
President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday: " Russia will not allow other countries to influence the presidential campaign."
Speaking to the Federal Security Service (FSB), Putin called for "tighter work to prevent attempts to interfere in Russia's internal affairs."
European election observers had deplored media coverage, election laws and state resources unfairly used in favour of the pro-Kremlin party in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.
"We would like to go next week," ODIHR spokesman Curtis Budden said, adding that the "elections are not just what happens on election day."
ODIHR had sent its request to Russia's election commission by fax Tuesday night complaining additionally of the curtailing of its mission to 70 observers and an excess of bureaucratic delays.
CEC chief Vladimir Churov said a prompt response would be made to ODIHR's request.
Igor Borisov, a CEC member, added Russia would be "ready to receive more election observers, but we would like them to make unbiased judgments."
In turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused OSCE of selective application of regulations in its election monitoring missions.
"Until the OSCE approves more concrete rules for inviting observers we'll act in compliance with our international obligations, but it is necessary to work out a common approach," Lavrov said in the capital of Belarus.
"We want understandable rules to be worked out for everyone," he said, adding that monitoring missions had been banned entry by many OSCE countries.