The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has issued a list of problems with Russia's parliamentary elections, and said it is sending observers to Russia to monitor the upcoming presidential ballot. A report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions says last month's parliamentary elections failed to meet the organization's standards. Among other things, the report found problems with Russia's voter registration lists, collusion between local government and party officials, failure to assure secrecy of votes and violence at some polling stations. Some candidates came in for criticism for unfair and xenophobic campaigning.
The document was especially critical of government intimidation of journalists, which, it said, created an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship.
The head of the office, Christian Strohal, says unfair media coverage distorted the election process.
"What we saw in Russia was a clear bias for one party, a positive bias for one party in the state media but on television in particular and an equally clear bias against another party in the same media," he said.
The Warsaw-based office's findings are the result of reports from several hundred observers who were sent to Russia last December to monitor the campaign. The observers visited around 2,500 polling stations on election day.
Russian officials objected to the OSCE report, saying the country was unfairly singled out for criticism. They said elections in other countries, especially Western democracies, also should be subjected to international scrutiny.
Mr. Strohal rejected Russia's objections, saying his office has sent observers to many Western countries.
"We have been assessing elections, for example, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland," he explained. "We sent a team from my own office to look at the elections for the governor of California and we have just received an invitation to go the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Spain."
Mr. Strohal says a team of observers will soon go to Russia to monitor the campaign for the presidential election in March. Of particular concern to the election observers, the OSCE says, is making sure that media coverage of this election will be neutral and fair.
He said the OSCE will report on the upcoming U.S. presidential election campaign as well.