WASHINGTON -- The United States has urged the Russian government to conduct "an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations" stemming from the March 4 presidential vote that saw Vladimir Putin sweep to victory.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that Washington endorses the preliminary reports by election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which identified Putin as the clear winner but also said the contest was skewed in his favor.
"We also say very clearly that the OSCE, whose report we endorse, had concerns about the conditions under which the campaign was conducted -- that it wasn't a level playing field to begin with; the partisan use of government resources, including resources dedicated to media coverage; and the procedural irregularities on the day of the election," Nuland said. "So we're very clear in calling out the issues that we see."
In a statement, the State Department also said it "note[s] the new steps that the Central Election Commission took to increase transparency of the voting process since the parliamentary elections last December," and urged the authorities to "build on these steps to ensure that the procedures for future elections will be more transparent."
The statement, which did not mention Putin by name, also said the United States is "encouraged" by Russian citizens' participation in vote-monitoring and in their exercising the right to assemble peacefully.
"The number of Russian election observers who monitored this vote is unprecedented and a sign that Russian society seeks to participate in the improvement of Russia’s democratic institutions," it said.
It also said Washington recognizes "the government’s efforts to reform the political system."
The U.S. reaction to the vote comes amid a mixed international response.
Western countries generally followed a similar line, with France, Britain, and the EU noting the findings and concerns mentioned by the OSCE.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Russia to probe claims of fraud.
But leaders of several Central Asia and Caucasian countries were quick to congratulate Putin, expressing hope that his presidency will usher in regional stability.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev expressed hope that Putin’s presidency will secure the "further strengthening of Russian-Kyrgyz ties."
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon called Putin's victory "proof" of the support of Russians for their leader. Rahmon added he believes that Putin "has a fully outlined course" for Russia's further development.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said he has confidence that under Putin's continued leadership, the "bilateral strategic partnership" between Armenia and Russia will help strengthen "peace, security, and stability in the South Caucasus."
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev also congratulated Putin, praising him for bringing "economic and social stability” to Azerbaijan’s “important strategic partner -- Russia."
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, whose country is neighboring former Soviet Central Asian states, where Russia continues to play an important political and economic role, telephoned Putin to congratulate him.
The leaders of Russia’s two important eastern neighbors -- China and Japan -- were also among the first to offer their congratulations.
In the Middle East, Syria’s state-run media applauded Putin's return to the Kremlin, saying he would influence international relations to enhance respect among countries and "not interfere in their internal affairs."
Moscow is one of the few remaining allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has faced world condemnation for its deadly crackdown on antigovernment protesters.
In Washington, the State Department's Nuland expressed hope that with presidential elections done, the government in Moscow would pay "fresh attention to the tragedy in Syria."
With contributions from Richard Solash and Heather Maher in Washington, and AFP and dpa reporting