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Russian Election Goes Unobserved

In the run-up to the Russian presidential poll on March 2, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe announced earlier this month that it would not send observers. Deutsche Welle takes a closer look.

The Kremlin in Moscow

The Kremlin believed the OSCE had set an "ultimatum"

The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) said on Feb. 7 that it would not send a delegation due to restrictions Russia planned to impose on its operation. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) had wanted to send observers a full month in advance, which Russia opposed.

Russia, for its part, was annoyed by the OSCE's decision, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying the organization had "refused to come to a sensible compromise" on the conditions surrounding the observer delegation.

He also said that ODIHR had imposed an ultimatum which any "self-respecting country [would] not accept."

"Disappointing results"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher, ODIHR's spokesman, said the results of negotiations between Russia and his organization were disappointing.

"The most central issue for us was being able to guarantee that elections in Russia could be observed credibly," he said.

The restrictions which Russian authorities wanted to impose concerning the length of the observation period, as well as the number in the delegation, would not have made that possible."

Eschenbaecher said the OSCE felt forced to keep its delegation at home.

A poll, after all, does not just consist of what happens on election day, but in the run-up to it. Russia originally wanted to allow the ODIHR team into the country only three days before the election. Responding to protests, the government then relented and said the team would be permitted entry two weeks prior to the election on March 2.

ODIHR task is comprehensive

An ODIHR election observation commission normally consists of a core team of trained media analysts, as well as experts in the areas of election legislation and constitutional law, who are stationed in the capital of the electing country.

The team is supplemented by long and short-term observers in regions throughout the country, who are supposed to be present six to eight weeks before a poll. Their job is to speak with politicians, candidates, the media and civilian representatives in the various districts about the political atmosphere.

A woman watches Russian President Vladimir Putin on television

President Putin is on his way out of office, but likely not out of power

The Kremlin, however, said Western countries were trying to make a political impact in Russia via election observation missions, such as in the revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia -- a view ODIHR spokesman Eschenbacher refuted.

"Russia, like any other OSCE member country, obliged itself to apply particular standards, and that includes standards for democratic elections," he said. "Our job is to see whether these standards are being upheld."

Still, even though election observers will not be present at Sunday's election, just as they were not for parliamentary polls in December, Eschenbaecher said he is optimistic for the future.

"We have been able to send observation teams in the past, and there have been no problems with Russian authorities," he said. "We hope and expect that this cooperation will reassert itself in the future."

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