The decision of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe not to send observers to Russia's parliamentary election next month marks a new low point in the already fraught relations between Russia and almost everyone else. The OSCE cites "delays and restrictions" in obtaining permission for its monitors to enter Russia, and says its staff have been denied visas.
The OSCE had already complained about a lack of Russian co-operation. But the organisation had persisted in the – correct – belief that some monitoring, however limited, was better than none. Still finding its efforts obstructed, it now appears to have thrown in the towel. In a letter to the Russian election commission, it regretted that it would be "unable to deliver its mandate".
Many factors can be advanced for the dire state of relations between Russia and what used to be called "the West". We could cite Russia's use of its energy resources for political advantage, the brazen activities of its espionage agencies abroad, not least in London, and President Putin's retreat from media freedom.
But Russia's list of grievances would also be long. It would start with US plans to station anti-missile installations in the Czech Republic and Poland – which is the single reason why Russia suspended observance of a disarmament treaty. It would continue with what Russia regards as Western encouragement to anti-Russian forces in neighbouring countries. And it would pass on to the EU's reluctance to drop visa requirements for Russians and its even greater reluctance to open its energy market to Russian companies.
Russia's relations with the OSCE reflect all these tensions, but also Moscow's sense that it has been held to a higher standard in some respects than its more pro-Western neighbours. The Kremlin is also still smarting from the OSCE's verdict on Russia's last presidential elections, which it described as "free, but not fair".
With the campaign for the 2 December parliamentary elections in full swing, and the presidential election set for early March, Russia is in full pre-election mode. And while the majority of Mr Putin's United Russia party is no doubt quite safe, the Kremlin is as concerned as any Western government would be not to look weak before the voters.
What it appears not to understand, however, is that in making life difficult for the OSCE, it is only confirming every worst Western stereotype about Russia's flawed democracy. The Kremlin should give the OSCE reason to think again.Reuse content