Moscow accuses US of 'direct interference' in upcoming election

A Moscow official said Tuesday that the State Department's criticism of a ban preventing an opposition leader from running against Vladimir Putin in Russia's upcoming presidential election constitutes "direct interference" in its electoral affairs. 

“This State Department statement, which I’m sure will be repeated, is a direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a Facebook statement, according to Business Insider.

The State Department spokesperson said in a Tuesday statement that they were concerned over Russia's "ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists to opposition politicians," Business Insider reported.

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The statement comes after Russia's Central Electoral Commission formally banned candidate Alexei Navalny last weekend from being listed on the ballot in the country's upcoming presidential elections, citing a prior embezzlement conviction. 

Navalny, a fierce critic of Putin, aimed to run as an opposition candidate to the president, who is seeking reelection for his fourth term in office, his second consecutive six-year term. 

“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the State Department statement reads. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman rebuffed the U.S. criticism of the electoral move, calling the statement hypocritical given the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

“And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” Zakharova remarked. 

The U.S. intelligence community has stated in certain terms that Moscow produced online propaganda and politically inflammatory online material aimed at swaying the election.