The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will not send observers to Russia’s upcoming elections for the first time in nearly three decades due to "major limitations" imposed by Russian authorities.
The OSCE said on August 4 that Russian authorities restricted the number of election observers the intergovernmental body could send, ostensibly due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We very much regret that our observation of the forthcoming elections in Russia will not be possible," said Matteo Mecacci, the director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR).
"The insistence of the Russian authorities on limiting the number of observers we could send without any clear pandemic-related restrictions has unfortunately made today’s step unavoidable," he added.
The OSCE is one of the world’s premier election-observing bodies, sending experts throughout its 57 participating member states to determine whether elections are free and fair. The OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly also sends short-term election observer missions.
On September 19, Russians will vote to choose members of the lower house of parliament, or State Duma, and 39 regional parliaments, as well as nine regional governors.
In the run-up to the elections, the Kremlin has cracked down on opposition political figures and independent media.
Several opposition figures have also been barred from competing in the vote, most of them affiliated with the political network of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny.
The OSCE had been invited to observe the Russian elections, but the number of allowed observers was later restricted to 60 due to what Russian authorities cited as the deteriorating pandemic situation in the country. The OSCE had assessed earlier this year that it needed 80 long-term and 420 short-term observers.
The OSCE said there were no pandemic-related entry restrictions or rules about operating and moving within the Russia that would justify not deploying a full election observation mission. It also noted that it had sent election observers to numerous other countries since the pandemic began.
"I am very disappointed that limitations imposed by the national authorities prevent the OSCE from providing the Russian voters with a transparent and authoritative assessment of their elections, as we have been doing consistently since 1993," OSCE
Parliamentary Assembly President Margareta Cederfelt said.
"The OSCE was limited to sending only a small fraction of the observers we had intended, and this simply does not enable us to carry out our work in an effective and thorough manner."