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Powell Raises Concerns about Russian Election Process With Putin - 2004-03-14

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Sunday expressed concern about the conduct of Russia's presidential election campaign, including a lack of access by opposition candidates to the government-dominated news media. Mr. Powell said he has raised those concerns directly with President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Powell says he does not think Russian democracy is "in trouble" but the United States nonetheless has "some concerns" about the process, based on what transpired in the presidential campaign and in the parliamentary elections in December, which left the political bloc supporting Mr. Putin in firm control of the Duma.

Interviewed on the Fox TV network, Mr. Powell reiterated the long-standing U.S. view that opposition politicians are not being given fair access by Russian news media controlled by the government and allies of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Powell said that to have full democracy, opposition candidates should have all the media access that the president does. He expressed puzzlement as to why opposition access is being curbed in Russia, given Mr. Putin's strong political position and standing with the electorate.

"Since President Putin has had such an overwhelming edge in this election and frankly is liked by the Russian people, and the Russian people will return him to office easily, then it's not entirely clear to me why they go out of their way to keep opposition candidates from fully participating in electoral process," he said. "It's not good, but I don't think it signals the total demise of democracy in Russia."

Mr. Powell said he had expressed those views directly to Mr. Putin and other Russian leaders.

On a visit to Moscow in January, the Secretary said in an open letter in the newspaper Izvestiya that Russia's democratic system seemed to have not yet found what he termed the "essential balance" between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

He said political power was not yet "fully tethered to law," and that free media and political party development had not yet achieved an independent presence.