Putin Accuses U.S. of Interference

Russian President Putin made his latest anti-West remarks in St. Petersburg.
Russian President Putin made his latest anti-West remarks in St. Petersburg. (By Sergey Ponomarev -- Associated Press)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

MOSCOW, Nov. 26 -- President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the U.S. State Department of engineering the recent decision by Europe's principal election watchdog group not to monitor Russia's parliamentary elections this coming Sunday.

Earlier this month, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced that it would not observe the Dec. 2 elections, citing "delays and restrictions" imposed by the Russian government.

In the latest of a string of harsh accusations directed at Western governments, Putin on Monday described the decision as an attempt to undermine the vote's legitimacy. He warned that Russia's already strained relations with the United States could be affected.

"According to evidence we have, this was done on the recommendation of the U.S. State Department, and we will take this into account in our intergovernmental relations with that country," said Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg. "Actions like this will not foil elections in Russia. Their goal is to make the elections illegitimate. But they will fail again to attain this goal."

The monitoring group, an arm of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), dismissed Putin's charge as "nonsense."

"The decision did not follow the recommendation or request of any government," said Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the Warsaw-based organization, in a telephone interview. "It was taken by the ODIHR director after consultations with elections experts. . . . This is not a decision that had any political aim."

"There was no State Department meddling in the process," said department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that American diplomats who met with OSCE officials delivered a message that only the OSCE could make the decision.

Last week, Putin said that "jackals" trained by "Western specialists" could attempt to seize power by organizing street protests such as those that ushered in pro-Western governments in neighboring Georgia and Ukraine.

Hundreds of protesters were detained by police at demonstrations in Russia over the weekend, including Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and Putin critic. He was sentenced to five days in jail for taking part in an illegal march in Moscow.

On Monday, President Bush expressed deep concern about the Russian actions. "I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them," Bush said in a statement.

"The freedoms of expression, assembly and press, as well as due process, are fundamental to any democratic society," he said. "I am hopeful that the government of Russia will honor its international obligations in these areas, investigate allegations of abuses and free those who remain in detention."

The German government called Monday for Kasparov's release. "This makes his participation in the decisive phase of the Russian parliamentary elections on December 2 impossible," said government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm, speaking at a news conference. "The German government believes it is necessary to immediately release him."

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