OSCE Balks at Sweetened Proposal

The OSCE turned down an offer from the Central Elections Commission on Tuesday to allow election monitors to begin work Feb. 20 for the presidential elections, saying the date was too late for their observers to do their work properly.

The OSCE's election-monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said it wanted the 75 observers accredited for the March 2 election allowed in earlier.

"What Russia offered us is fine, but we insist that our observers be allowed to enter the country no later than next week," ODIHR spokesman Curtis Budden said Tuesday, Interfax reported.

Moscow had previously said observers could be allowed to start their work three days ahead of the election and had slashed the number of monitors the organization was allowed to send from 400 to 70.

Statements from ODIHR that it would cancel its mission altogether seemed to draw little sympathy from the commission.

"The time is more than enough," Central Elections Commission spokeswoman Victoria Galanina said Tuesday.

The commission said that a five-person logistical team would be welcomed immediately, a 20-member advance team could begin working on Friday, and the remaining 50 monitors would only be allowed to start work on Feb. 20.

"We would like the main group of 50 observers to arrive in Russia on Friday," Budden said.

ODIHR canceled its planned mission ahead of December's State Duma vote following a bitter dispute over restrictions and the timing of the invitations.

A boycott by the organization now would bolster concerns about the legitimacy of the presidential vote, where a victory for First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is generally viewed as a foregone conclusion.

Medvedev, whose popularity has soared to around 70 percent since President Vladimir Putin announced he was supporting his candidacy in December, enjoys blanket state television coverage at government meetings and during regional visits. He has said that he is too busy to campaign.

Opposition members have accused the Kremlin of running a crooked election, providing uneven media coverage and preventing opposition candidates from running.

Russia accused the United States of putting pressure on ODHIR to pull out of the Dec. 2 elections and has said that it is trying to sabotage monitoring plans for the presidential vote as well.

International observers criticized the Dec. 2 Duma elections as unfair and undemocratic, accusing the authorities of abusing their powers to ensure an overwhelming victory for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.