‘Unacceptable’: Moscow slams US for 'barring Russian diplomats from observing election'

A voter wears a shirt with words from the United States Constitution while casting his ballot early as long lines of voters vote at the San Diego County Elections Office in San Diego, California, U.S., November 7, 2016. © Mike Blake
Moscow has blasted the US for limiting Russian diplomats’ access to polling stations to observe the presidential election, calling the move “unacceptable.” The US embassy in Moscow denied that Russian diplomats are barred from observing the vote.

"The US administration's law enforcement officials stop at nothing to cut off Russian representatives from an opportunity to assess the provisions of holding the upcoming elections," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told RIA Novosti.

The deputy foreign minister’s statement comes hours after the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, wrote on Facebook that “things went as far as open intimidation of Russian diplomats. The State Department recommended them not to approach the polling stations on their own, and authorities in some states went further and threatened [the diplomats] with criminal prosecution.”

Zakharova added that in Houston “an entire special operation was conducted, Hollywood action movie-style, with the blocking of the car belonging to an employee of the Russian general consulate.”

“They stopped the car and started to peddle the idea that [the diplomat] should neither look nor think of the [US presidential] vote. [They said] exactly this: why are you thinking about our election?”

In October, the Russian embassy in Washington said that its diplomats in the US had been threatened with criminal prosecution if they attempted to monitor the upcoming presidential and congressional elections at polling stations.

READ MORE: Russian diplomats in US could face criminal charges for monitoring November elections – embassy

“We have drawn our conclusions from this and officially warned the US embassy in Moscow a few days ago that the US should not count on the presence of US diplomats at elections that will be carried out in Russia,” Ryabkov said.

However, the US embassy in Moscow denies that Washington is trying to bar Russian diplomats from being present at the polling stations.

“We have received a diplomatic note [about observing the elections] on October 26,” said the press secretary of the US mission in Russia, Maria Olson, as quoted by RIA Novosti. “The Russian statements that the US government is barring them from observing the elections are simply unfounded.”

According to Olson, Russian observers, including the diplomats in the US, were invited to the polling stations in the framework of the long-term and the short-term OSCE missions, but “Russia decided to not to participate.”

Russia decided not to participate in the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) mission at the US elections because Russian representatives’ views are usually not taken into account in its reports, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Tuesday.

“We have decided not to get involved in the OSCE mission due to several reasons,” Ryabkov told TASS. “Practice shows that the missions, sent by the OSCE ODIHR, in the final reports do not take into account the opinion of Russian observers, as a rule.”

“Originally, it was a question of studying the US experience by Russian diplomats; it is in fact normal diplomatic practice. As for the participation in the OSCE mission, that’s a totally different procedure. Participation in this format is not intended to study the experience of the host country, and does not provide an opportunity to influence the preparation of the final OSCE report on the elections.

But that's not even the point. Judging by the unpredictable behavior of the authorities of different [US] states in the last election (we all remember how Texas Attorney Greg Abbott warned the OSCE observers against violation of the state’s law, and forbade members of the international organization to approach polling stations closer than 100 feet on Election Day), there were serious doubts the OSCE observers will be allowed presence at the elections in other parts of the country this time around too,” Zakharova wrote, adding that during the 2012 elections, OSCE observers were able to operate normally in approximately 30-40 states.

“This year the same situation repeats itself,” she added, saying that according to media reports, some 13 states have forbidden the OSCE observers from being present at the election.

Relations with Russia have frequently been in the focus of the US presidential race. Russia was the topic that attracted the most attention during all three presidential debates as well as the vice-presidential one.