This week, “Russia denied registration of a key opposition political party Wednesday, effectively barring it from upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections that the Kremlin had hinted might be open to some competition,” the Wall Street Journal reports. According to opposition leader Boris Nemtsov “"his is an announcement that there will be no elections, because there will be no opposition parties…The decision comes from the very top.”

In response to the Kremlin’s latest power grab, the Russia Working Group issued the following statement:

Statement of the Russia Working Group, Friday June 24, 2011

Russian authorities this week failed an important test of their commitment to hold free and fair elections by denying registration to a new opposition party. This clearly political decisionindicates that the Russian government does not intend elections to the Duma in December and for president in March 2012 to be openly contested; instead it reflects a desire by a small group in power to try to determine the outcome of the elections in advance. This decision is inconsistent with Russia’s international obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to uphold democratic principles and the rule of law and needs to be reversed. Through its membership in the OSCE, Russia has agreed specifically to "respect the right of individuals and groups to establish, in full freedom, their own political parties or other political organizations and provide such political parties and organizations with the necessary legal guarantees to enable them to compete with each other on a basis of equal treatment before the law and by the authorities." In addition, Russia agreed that the conduct of its elections is a matter of “direct and legitimate concern” to other OSCE members, and committed itself to allow monitoring by domestic and international monitors.

The rejection of the application by the Party of People’s Freedom, led by a group of prominent opposition leaders is unfortunately part of a trend. The Obama administration is on record that democracy and human rights are important to U.S.-Russia relations. If so, the administration, and the U.S. Congress, should respond vigorously with measures designed to support democratic rights and freedoms. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin may believe that by denying opposition parties the ability to compete, they can remove democratic elections from the agenda. They should be proved wrong.

Russia Working Group

Leon Aron

American Enterprise Institute

Ellen Bork

Foreign Policy Initiative

Jeff Gedmin

Legatum Institute

Robert Kagan

Brookings Institution

Craig Kennedy

German Marshall Fund

David Kramer

Freedom House

Tom Malinowski

Human Rights Watch

Stephen Sestanovich

Council on Foreign Relations

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