Russia challenges demands of election monitoring group

Other News Materials 7 February 2008 15:35 (UTC +04:00)

( Herald Tribune ) - Russia's foreign minister said Thursday that Moscow can't accept demands from the election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe relating to next month's presidential election.

Sergey Lavrov denounced the group's demand to allow its monitors to come to Russia no later than Feb. 15 as an ultimatum. "Self-respecting countries don't accept ultimatums," Lavrov said at a briefing.

Monitors from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights skipped Russia's Dec. 2 parliamentary elections, saying Russia granted them insufficient time to conduct a satisfactory monitoring operation.

Curtis Budden, spokesman for the Warsaw-based ODIHR, refused immediate comment. The OSCE was planned to make a statement on the issue later in the day.

In the eyes of Western governments and Kremlin critics in Russia, a boycott by the organization would underscore doubts about the legitimacy of a vote whose result is seen as all but inevitable.

Liberal opposition leaders have accused the Kremlin of keeping them off the ballot for the election, which is almost certain to be won by President Vladimir Putin's favored successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who has said he will name Putin as his prime minister if elected.

The group stressed that it needs the 70-member observer mission - pared back from some 400 four years ago - to be on the ground by Feb. 15, while Russia has proposed Feb. 20. The voting takes place March 2.

Lavrov dismissed ODIHR's demands, saying Russia won't allow the group to set the rules.

"The OSCE/ODIHR invented its own rules," he said. "The main problem with these rules is that they are totally non-transparent. Russia regrets that the ODIHR has chosen the language of ultimatums."