Russia rebuffs watchdog "ultimatum" over vote

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday it would not bow to ultimatums from Europe’s main election watchdog in a dispute over monitoring next month’s presidential vote.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow January 23, 2008. Lavrov said on Thursday he regretted the way Europe's main election watchdog had behaved in a dispute over monitoring a March 2 presidential vote. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

The monitoring issue has caused friction between Western governments, which want reassurances the vote will be free and fair, and the Kremlin which has rejected what it calls foreign interference in the election.

Warsaw-based watchdog the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has said it may pull out of monitoring the election unless Russia eases restrictions it imposed on the scope of the observation mission.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters he regretted the stance of the OSCE body in talks with Russia.

“ODIHR has been making public statements, the essence of which is that it has made its demands and if these are not met ODIHR will not come,” Lavrov said.

“Let’s put it this way -- in Russian, as well as in any other language, this is called an ultimatum. A country which respects itself accepts no ultimatums. We regret that this approach prevailed in ODIHR’s stance.”

“(This) makes even more pressing the task of reforming this organization even more pressing, so that it should work not on the basis of those instructions it invents, but rather on the basis of collective rules agreed between .... governments.”

Opinion polls point to an election win for Dmitry Medvedev, a close ally of outgoing President Vladimir Putin whose chances have been helped by blanket coverage on state-controlled television and the strongest economy in a generation.

The parliamentary assembly of the organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Thursday it had rejected a Russian invitation to monitor the vote.

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“We regret that circumstances prevent us from observing this election,” assembly secretary general Spencer Oliver said in an e-mailed statement with an attached letter to Russia’s State Duma (parliament) notifying it of the pullout.


Russia has said the ODIHR observers can come to Russia no earlier than February 20 but the watchdog says it needs its teams in Russia not later than February 15 if it is to conduct a meaningful assessment of the vote.

An ODIHR spokesman said he had no immediate comment on Lavrov’s comments. The body has previously denied it is presenting Russia with ultimatums.

The ODIHR cancelled plans to monitor a parliamentary election in December last year, citing restrictions on its operations imposed by the Russian authorities.

Western governments view ODIHR’s verdicts as the best yardstick of whether elections in ex-Soviet states are fair. The European Union has urged Russia to remove what it called “significant restrictions” on the monitoring mission.”

Officials in Moscow say they believe the watchdog is being manipulated by Western governments who are using it as a tool to attack Russia over its rights record.

Medvedev has been front-runner to win the election since Putin named him as his favored successor. He has refused to take part in election debates citing a lack of time, but his trips to the regions are given lavish television coverage.

The opposition has called the vote a farce.

For more on Russia's presidential election, please see our blog "Operation Successor" at

Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Christian Lowe