Russia's top election official has lashed out at U.S. State Department criticism that in the recent presidential election, Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) denied observer status to 4,500 monitors linked to anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, along with 850 others with ties to Golos, the independent Moscow-based election watchdog.
"This is an absolutely illiterate lie," CEC Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova was quoted Tuesday as saying to Russia's state-run TASS news organization. She was responding to a comment by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who on Friday tweeted about widespread news reports of election monitoring violations.
"The #Russian Central Election Commission's decision to deny observer status to over 5,000 independent media observers shows Kremlin authorities fear transparency ahead of the March 18 #elections," Nauert had tweeted, referring to accounts of Russian police seizing some observer permits and revoking the office lease of Golos' headquarters.
Pamfilova followed up her charges of "illiterate lies" by saying accreditation had been denied only to monitoring groups that "incorrectly filled out their applications," and that as of Election Day, "everyone who wanted to, monitored at the polling stations."
OSCE preliminary report
Nauert discussed the issue of monitors during the daily briefing Tuesday, noting that "the gold standard of monitors," from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had issued a preliminary report on the election.
She read an excerpt of the report from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. It said the "team noted that the election in Russia took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices. Restrictions on fundamental freedoms resulted in a lack of genuine competition and an uneven playing field."
"We saw in the news over the weekend that some people were paid to turn out to vote," Nauert added. "We've seen that opposition leaders have been intimidated, jailed, and other things of the sort. So I would just draw ourselves back to the OSCE preliminary report."
Financial Times Moscow correspondent Max Seddon on Sunday reported that observers were "beaten up by a mobile gang of toughs at polling stations." Golos said more than 1,500 violations at polling stations were reported nationwide.
Golos also recorded several cases of people stuffing ballot boxes. Navalny, the onetime opposition candidate who was disqualified from the race because of a conviction for embezzlement, which the European Court of Human Rights dismissed as politically motivated, said data compiled by his observers at polling stations showed that the official turnout of 67.5 percent was inflated by 10 percentage points.
Although Navalny's thousands of supporters were barred from physically observing polling stations, they were each assigned to monitor streaming public access video footage of individual polling stations that anyone in Russia can access online. While watching, they documented the number of voters and conduct of polling station officials.
The OSCE, which requested 420 short-term observers to monitor polling stations, voting, ballot counts and results, said the election was conducted in an orderly fashion but lacked real choice.
"After intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers, yet restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition," said OSCE, which was slated to issue its final report on Russia's electoral process in two months.
On Thursday, Leonid Slutsky, the head of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, released the names of 1,300 Kremlin-friendly foreign observers invited to monitor the elections. As expected, they unanimously gave the election their stamp of approval.
The Kremlin-backed observers included Italy's representative to the European Parliament, Stefano Maullu of the center-right European Peoples Party, who said that the election displayed a good result for democracy in Russia.
Spanish Senator Pedro Argamunt, who was ousted from Europe's parliamentary assembly after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also attended, along with France's Thierry Mariani, widely perceived as the head of Western European nation's pro-Russia lobby and a regular visitor to the territorially disputed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, where, in protest, OSCE refused to send observers.
'Big national team'
After claiming a resounding, and expected, victory in the election, Putin addressed thousands on Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin late Sunday, hailing those who voted for him as a "big national team'' and adding that "we are bound for success.''
Asked whether he would seek the presidency again when next eligible to run, in 2030, the 65-year-old Russian leader snapped, "It's ridiculous. Do you think I will sit here until I turn 100?''
This story originated in VOA's Russian Service. Some information came from Reuters.