- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2012

The State Department on Monday avoided taking a firm position on Russia’s presidential election despite widespread complaints of fraud and an assertion by Europe’s leading election monitoring group that the vote was “skewed” to favor Vladimir Putin.

Without mentioning Mr. Putin by name in a statement, the State Department said the United States “looks forward to working with the president-elect after the results are certified and he is sworn in.”

Mr. Putin, the current prime minister, declared victory after polls closed Sunday and told thongs of supporters outside the Kremlin that the election had been “open and honest.”

The State Department’s statement urged Moscow to “conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations,” and said that the United States was “encouraged” by the level of participation that had occurred in the election.

“The number of Russian election observers who monitored this vote is unprecedented and a sign that Russian society seeks to participate in the improvement of Russia’s democratic institutions,” the statement read.

The State Department also said it endorsed the preliminary reports by independent European election monitors.

Those monitors have criticized the election as being unfairly tilted in Mr. Putin’s favor, but they also have asserted that Sunday’s vote resulted in a clear winner.

“This election showed a clear winner with an absolute majority, avoiding a second round,” said Tiny Kox, who led a monitoring delegation from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. “However, voter’s choice was limited, electoral competition lacked fairness and an impartial referee was missing.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was “simply a matter of form” for the department to have avoided mentioning Mr. Putin by name in its response to the election.

Asked if U.S. officials believe the election’s outcome might change pending an investigation of fraud claims, Mrs. Nuland said: “No, we don’t.”



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