The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe warned this week that it may not be able to send its delegation of 70 observers to the polls if Moscow doesn't relieve some of the tough new restrictions on their activities. Those include a requirement that the team come just three days prior to the voting, and that it not be allowed to monitor Russian media coverage of the campaign to judge its fairness. "These conditions don't allow us to carry out a meaningful observation and therefore fulfill our mandate," the OSCE said in a statement.
And in an odd twist, Putin ordered the FSB security service to intensify security precautions before the elections. "You must step up efforts to receive timely information about any attempts to interfere in our domestic affairs," he told officials of the KGB successor agency Wednesday.
Some experts warn that the Kremlin's overmanagement of the election could backfire, by destroying any semblance of credibility in the process. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who brought the first wave of democratization to the USSR two decades ago, spoke out this week against the reduction of elections to a one-horse race. "Something wrong is going on with our elections, and our electoral system needs a major adjustment," Mr. Gorbachev told the independent Interfax agency. "Certainly, the election will take place in Russia and people should vote, but its outcome is totally predictable," he complained.
Mr. Medvedev's office announced this week that the candidate would be "too busy" carrying out his official duties as deputy prime minister in charge of social projects to campaign or take part in televised debates with his rivals. He has been travelling around Russia, often in company with Mr. Putin, holding public meetings that are lavishly covered as "news" by state-run TV networks.
And while Medvedev may not be campaigning, he has set up an election Website where people can read his speeches and view photos of himself and his family (www.medvedev2008.ru/english.htm).