An ongoing row between Europe's top elections watchdog and Russia ended with a decision by the OSCE to boycott the country's presidential election, echoing events of the December parliamentary vote.
Russia will choose its new president on March 2 without OSCE observers
The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe said on Thursday, Feb. 7 that it would not send a delegation to Russia's March 2 presidential election because of restrictions Russia planned to impose on its operation.
Lennmarker made the OSCE decision final via official letter
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) had wanted to send the observers a full month in advance, a move opposed by Russia.
"We regret that circumstances prevent us from observing this election," OSCE spokesman Spencer Oliver told news agencies.
The president of the OSCE's parliamentary assembly, Goran Lennmarker, wrote to the head of the Russian State Parliament, Boris Gryzlov, making the decision official.
"We unfortunately cannot accept your invitation to send a limited number of observers to Russia for the presidential election taking place on March 2," he said in the letter, released to the press.
Russia deplores OSCE move
Opposition groups say the presidential vote is rigged for Medvedev, left
Russia, in return, criticized the decision.
"We believe the actions of the ODIHR are unacceptable," foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement. "We cannot but deeply regret this position," he added.
The 320-member parliamentary assembly is made up of lawmakers from each of the OSCE's 56 member states. According to the watchdog's website, its main aim is to improve dialogue between the parliaments of those member countries.
Lennmarker's letter followed a lengthy dispute between ODIHR and Russian diplomats. The ODIHR had stepped up pressure on Moscow to allow its own observers into the country ahead of the election.
Russia announced in late January that it was inviting 400 foreign monitors to observe the vote, but ODIHR has criticized "unprecedented restrictions" imposed on the observers.
Repeat of earlier events
Earlier on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia refused to comply with the conditions put forward by the ODIHR.
"This is called an ultimatum," Lavrov told reporters. "Self-respecting countries do not accept ultimatums."
Lavrov said that the OSCE had "impolitely" insisted on sending observers a month before the March 2 vote, and that this was unnecessary.
The ODIHR already boycotted Russia's December parliamentary election, saying proper observation was impossible under the conditions imposed by Russia.
President Vladimir Putin, who is stepping down at the end of his second term, is expected to be replaced by his close ally Dmitry Medvedev in the presidential vote, which opposition groups say is being rigged.