US condemns Russia's 'harassment' of monitor group
The White House on Friday condemned Moscow's "pattern of harassment" against a small observer group that has caused a stir by exposing claims of widespread violations ahead of parliamentary elections.
On its website, Golos (Voice) has documented nearly 5,000 instances of alleged electoral fraud in the run-up to Sunday's legislative polls.
Those include attempts by regional officials to pressure Russians into voting for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, often on pain of being fired.
The group was fined 30,000 rubles ($970) for violating electoral law, after three members of parliament asked authorities to investigate its activities.
"The Obama administration is concerned with today's decision by a Moscow court regarding the election monitoring NGO Golos, as well as what appears to be a pattern of harassment directed against this organization," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
He said Washington had shared its concerns with officials both in Moscow and at the Russian embassy in the US capital.
The Golos vote fraud project is starting to raise questions about the legitimacy of the polls and has incurred the wrath of Putin, the paramount Russian strongman running for a third term as president in March elections.
Speaking at a United Russia congress over the weekend, Putin lashed out at Western attempts to "influence the course of the election campaign" through Russian NGOs, warning this was "money thrown to the wind."
Vietor countered, "We are proud of our support of Golos, which is intended to strengthen democratic institutions and processes -- not influence elections -- and we believe that citizens everywhere should have a right to report concerns about their electoral processes."
Golos says it has never been under so much state pressure in a decade of documenting electoral fraud.
Despite the announced "restart" of ties between Washington and Moscow after US President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 and the two former Cold War foes signed a new START nuclear disarmament treaty last year, a number of disagreements remain, including on human rights and unrest in Syria.
© 2011 AFP