Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has issued a warning to the U.S.: Don’t “meddle” in the country’s upcoming election.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the U.S. this week of “direct interference into the electoral process” after the State Department criticized Russia’s decision to ban opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny from running for president.
A State Department rep had decried the Russian government’s “ ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians,” according to a statement obtained by Business Insider.
“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 State Department said.
Zakharova suggested the U.S. was “meddling” in the Russian election by issuing such comments.
“This statement by the U.S. Department of State, which I’m sure will not be the only one, is a direct interference into the electoral process and the state’s domestic affairs,” Zakharova wrote in a Facebook post.
Several Russian news outlets, including the state-owned TASS news agency , reported Zakharova’s comments this week.
Zakharova’s accusation comes amid an ongoing investigation by special counsel
Robert Mueller into Russia’s own interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The U.S. intelligence community has expressed “high confidence ” that Putin’s government used “an influence campaign” during the election to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate [Democratic nominee Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
Russia’s next presidential election is slated to take place in March. Putin, who officially announced this month that he would be
seeking a fourth presidential term , is expected to win easily. His administration, however, has taken significant steps to ensure that Navalny, who submitted his documents to register as a presidential candidate on Sunday, is scrubbed completely from the minds of voters.
The Central Election Commission ruled on Monday that Navalny would be barred from running against Putin, citing the activist’s earlier conviction for embezzlement . Navalny and his supporters argue the move was politically motivated.
“We won’t have an election because Vladimir Putin is horribly afraid, he sees a threat in competing with me,” Navalny said in a video released after the decision. “He gave an instruction to his servants from the Central Electoral Commission to reject my registration.”
According to The New York Times, Putin’s government has also threatened Navalny with legal action if he continue to call for a boycott of the election, something he has done repeatedly this week .