Vladimir Putin, fearful that his party could lose its two-thirds majority in Russian elections on Sunday, has silenced the country's only independent political watchdog.
A Moscow court on Friday ruled that Golos, the country’s independent election monitoring organization, had broken Russian law by publishing citizens’ complaints of campaign abuses.
Golos has been operating an online "Map of Violations," tracking campaign violations across the country during the run-up to parliamentary elections this weekend.
The Daily Mail cited Moscow city prosecutors as saying that they had received complaints from lawmakers over Golos' foreign financing and calls for it to stop monitoring votes.
According to the Mail, Putin began directly targeting Golos — which operates on grants from the United States and Europe — last Sunday in a speech in which he claimed that foreigners were funding his political opponents.
Commentators reportedly said his remarks "sounded much like the anti-Western rhetoric of his eight-year presidency from 2000."
The New York Times wrote that:
The Kremlin is scrambling to shore up United Russia, which is almost certain to lose the two-thirds majority it has enjoyed since 2007, and to dissuade those inclined to cast a protest vote.
An electoral setback, Reuters wrote Friday, might take some of the gloss off Putin's plan to return to the Russian presidency next year.
United Russia chose Vladimir Putin as its candidate for the Russian presidential election in March, and he was formally nominated on Nov. 27.
(GlobalPost reports: Vladimir Putin formally accepts presidential nomination)
Golos deputy director Grigory A. Melkonyants said that pressure from authorities had mounted to the point that Golos’s 3,000 election monitors might not be able to observe voting on Sunday, the Times added.
Police on Friday searched a Golos field office in Siberia, and several election observers were warned not to take part, according to the group.
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, Putin's anti-Golos rhetoric has an "anti-American, anti-Western tinge, reflecting the fact that the U.S. Agency for International Development covers the costs of operating the headquarters; the National Endowment for Democracy provides grants for long-term monitoring, as does Europe; and the National Democratic Institute offers training for monitors. Sweden, Norway and Britain also give grants."
The paper quotes an article in the Kommersant newspaper by Oleg Kashin, an outspoken journalist "badly beaten a year ago for unexplained reasons," as saying: "When they are pressing observers, it means that the violations have been already planned."
Putin, meanwhile, used an appearance in St Petersburg shipyard on Friday to urge voters and politicians to unite behind the government and prevent Russian politics turning into a "circus," Reuters reported.
Putin echoed remarks by President Dmitry Medvedev calling for a strong parliament, amounting to an appeal for a big mandate for his ruling United Russia party.
Their party is expected to win the election to the State Duma lower house, but Putin and Medvedev have struggled during a lackluster election campaign to prevent its huge majority being cut after signs of weariness with the party.