The United States' mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized Russia's recent national elections as taking place under conditions "not conducive to free or fair" voting and called Moscow's claims of outside interference as "baseless allegations" to distract from a flawed process.
Acting U.S. political counselor Andrew Shepard leveled the criticisms in a statement to the OSCE's principal decision-making body, the Permanent Council, on September 23.
"The repressive actions taken by the Russian Government before and during the September 17-19 Duma elections obstructed electoral transparency, hampered independent media coverage of the elections, and prevented genuine opposition participation, severely undermining the credibility of the elections," Shepard said.
For the first time since 1993, election observers from the OSCE were not present for a Russian vote due to limitations imposed by authorities.
"We regret that the elections took place under conditions not conducive to free and fair proceedings, and that the undue restrictions imposed by the Russian government prevented OSCE observation of the elections," Shepard said.
The Kremlin-backed ruling United Russia party retained its constitutional majority amid bans and curbs on the opposition, along with widespread reports of voting irregularities and ballot tampering on election day.
Shepard said Russian authorities had "targeted independent media in particular" to thwart Russians' choice.
"In 2021 alone," he said, "30 more independent media outlets or individuals were added to the register of 'media foreign agents,'" a reference to a controversial 2012 law that has been amended multiple times to toughen conditions for media and journalists in Russia.
United Russia's announced support slid 6 percentage points from the previous election in 2016 to a fraction under 50 percent, but still left it with a comfortable two-thirds majority in the 450-seat State Duma to enact constitutional changes.
Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny accused the Kremlin of using "intimidation and repression" to steal the vote.
Shepard cited Russian officials' designation of Navalny organizations as "extremist" as "a new tool to selectively disqualify from running for office thousands of politically engaged Russians who have been associated with those groups."
In the run-up to the voting, Russia accused the United States and tech giants Apple and Google of interference, saying Navalny and his allies' Smart Voting app was "connected in one way or another with the Pentagon."
"We are not aware of any credible evidence or reports that support Russia’s claims of outside election interference," Shepard told the OSCE Permanent Council.
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The Smart Voting app -- a voting guide to mobilize support for candidates with a chance to defeat United Russia rivals -- was removed from Apple and Google stores as voting in Russia began.
"These baseless allegations are designed to deflect attention from the real threat to the integrity of these elections -- the increasingly repressive environment Russian authorities have created to advantage ruling party candidates by obstructing electoral transparency, marginalizing independent media, and preventing opposition participation," Shepard said.
The Association of Independent Municipal and Regional Deputies this week launched a petition demanding all results from the elections across Russia be invalidated due to numerous violations and irregularities in the voting.