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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OSCE Abandons Observer Mission for Duma Elections

In an unprecedented move, the OSCE on Friday abandoned its planned observer mission for the upcoming State Duma elections, saying that Russian "delays and restrictions" had prevented the organization from receiving visas.

The decision, announced Friday, could mean that Russia's already-fraught relations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a leading democracy watchdog, deteriorate into outright crisis, diplomats and analysts said.

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said that it would be unable to deliver its mandate "due to delays and restrictions."

"Despite repeated attempts ... visas have continuously been denied," said the statement, which was posted on the organization's web site.

The Foreign Ministry responded angrily, lambasting the office for fabricating a pretext for the cancellation.

But the office's spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, said that repeated attempts to get visas for the mission, reduced this year to 70 observers, proved futile. "We sent the list of our monitors to the Foreign Ministry two weeks ago," she said by telephone from Warsaw.

Gunnarsdottir said she had made at least four calls to the Russian consulate in Warsaw to inquire about the visas. Each time a representative said that they could not proceed with issuing the visas until Moscow gave the green light, which never happened, according to Gunnarsdottir.

The Foreign Ministry called the OSCE's explanations a fabrication and threw harsh criticism at the ODIHR's Director, Austrian diplomat Christian Strohal. As an excuse for the cancellation, "invented references to alleged difficulties in obtaining Russian visas have been put forward," the ministry said in a statement posted on its web site.