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It's Russian election season. So where's the campaign?

The race to replace Vladimir Putin officially starts Saturday, but Mr. Putin's handpicked successor has declined to campaign or publicly debate his opponents.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 2008



MOSCOW

The race to replace President Vladimir Putin officially opens Saturday. But actual campaigning is difficult to find.

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Mr. Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, who is basking in opinion polls that show him winning almost three-quarters of the votes on March 2, has declined to campaign or even publicly debate his opponents. Several outside candidates who might have challenged the Kremlin's script were ejected from the ballot in the pre-campaign stage, leaving only the usual, predictable also-rans of post-Soviet Russian politics, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and oddball ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. A third contender, Andrei Bogdanov of the tiny Democratic Party, is a virtual unknown who has never criticized the Kremlin.

"These elections are really just an afterthought in a political system where the main issue of who will succeed Putin has already been decided," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "What's left is just a performance to convince the world that there's a functioning democracy in Russia. And if the show is going badly, it's due to bad management."

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.

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