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Russia will invite the OSCE's main election monitoring arm, which refused
Russia will invite the OSCE's main election monitoring arm, which refused to attend December's parliamentary polls, to observe next year's presidential elections, the foreign minister said on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters in Madrid where he is attending a ministerial council session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Sergei Lavrov said he was uncertain as to how the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights would respond to Russia's invitation to the March 2, 2008 elections.

"I can't say what the ODIHR's reaction will be like, because it was really unpredictable," Lavrov said.

He said Russia had done everything it should have to observe its commitments and invite international observers to the elections, adding that the ODIHR chief in his recent interview said the decision not to send monitors to the parliamentary elections was down to visa problems.

"This is, to put it in diplomatic terms, untrue, as the visas were ready," Lavrov said.

He described the U.S. position on the issue as "unconstructive."

After the OSCE ODIHR announced that it would not be attending Russia's parliamentary elections, President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of pressuring the organization.

"According to our data, this has once again been done on the U.S. State Department's recommendation, and we will take this into account in our intergovernmental relations with that country," the president said Monday.

Washington angrily hit back at the allegations, accusing Russia of trying to undermine the OSCE's election monitoring work.

U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Wednesday: "This allegation made by President Putin the other day is completely unfounded, it's untrue."

Although the OSCE is recognized by Western countries as the main authority on election monitoring, whose approval is a key requisite to declaring elections free and fair, Russia has in the past accused the organization of bias toward pro-Western opposition parties.

The OSCE played a key role in unveiling alleged ballot rigging in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, leading to an election re-run in which a pro-Western candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, defeated his pro-Kremlin rival Viktor Yanukovych.


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