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OSCE Wants Better Ties With Russia

Janez Lenarcic says he wants a new chapter in relations.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Europe's main election watchdog wants to improve relations with the Kremlin, its new chief has said, after saying it was regrettable the group had not monitored earlier Russian polls.

The comments mark a change in tactic by the election monitoring unit for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had accused the Kremlin of hindering their work.

"There is a willingness in the Russian Federation to start a new chapter with ODIHR," Janez Lenarcic, head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), told journalists.

"In the past there was a certain level of mistrust and suspicion."

ODIHR pulled out of monitoring Russia's presidential election in March and its parliamentary vote in December because it said limits imposed by the Kremlin on observers made it impossible to do the job properly.

The Kremlin accused the ODIHR of looking for an excuse not to cover the elections and of being a tool of the United States.

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party won a landslide victory in December's parliamentary elections and Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's preferred successor, won about 70 percent in March's presidential election.

Russia's opposition parties complained the elections were not fair.

But Lenarcic, a 41-year-old Slovenian career diplomat, told a news briefing he wanted the bickering between the Kremlin and ODIHR to stop.

"I would like to open a new chapter in relations between the Russian Federation and our bureau," he said.

"I would like to overcome suspicions, to build a trusting relationship and strengthen cooperation."

In comments to journalists on September 8, Lenarcic suggested he was unhappy that ODIHR had not monitored Russia's earlier elections.

"It's difficult for me to judge," he said. "What I can say is that it is regrettable that this happened."