Russia accuses US of meddling in polls
AFP MOSCOW RUSSIA on Thursday accused the United States of trying to influence its election process by funding opposition groups in advance of Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the Kremlin in weekend polls.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivered a scathing critique in which he accused the United States of following Cold War-era stereotypes and trying to talk down to Russia.
“The days when Russia could be lectured or preached to are over,” Lavrov said in an interview published in the online edition of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta government daily.
“Our American partners understand this perfectly well, but the inertia of past approaches and stereotypes in Washington is still evident,” Lavrov said.
“We respond firmly... to attempts to affect the political and electoral processes in Russia, including by way of fuinding civil society groups.” The remarks echo similar accusations by Putin and follow a state-led crackdown on a private Moscow-based election monitor called Golos (Voice) that openly receives funding from the West.
Putin had earlier accused the US State Department of inciting the street protests that erupted in Moscow following disputed December parliamentary elections and have continued in the run-up to Sunday’s presidential vote.
The Russian premier’s comments drew a sharp response from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and now threaten to complicate the two sides’ relations on Putin’s expected return for a third term as president.
Lavrov said the United States had strict laws barring foreigners from funding election campaigns and that Russia could alter its laws to make sure the same applied to organisations such as Golos.
“We have to have our legislation catch up with these democratic standards,” Lavrov said in reference to the US law.
Meanwhile, human rights groups said on Thursday that the Russian government was cracking down on its critics, including news outlets and NGOs planning to monitor this week’s presidential election.
“The Russian government has done the right thing by allowing unprecedented public protests and proposing some reforms,” said Hugh Williamson of the New Yorkbased Human Rights Watch , referring to anti-government protests after parliamentary elections in December.
“But the authorities are also trying in numerous ways to make their critics think twice about speaking out or protesting.
Despite the positive developments, the climate for civil society is as hostile as it ever was,” said Williamson. HRW said Russian authorities have harassed NGOs planning to monitor the March 4 presidential election, which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is expected to win, as well as trying to intimidate civic activists and interfering with news media critical of the government.
Several civic and rights activists were either attacked or intimidated.
In some cases the family members of activists were summoned by the Federal Security Service and questioned about the activists’ political involvement. HRW also said that the National Reserve Bank in February blocked the account of Alexander Lebedev, the main shareholder of the Kremlin-critical Novaya Gazeta weekly newspaper.