Israeli officials squirmed in embarrassment on Friday over Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ringing endorsement of Russia’s contested parliamentary elections as “free and democratic.”
Lieberman’s comments, which were reported by Russian news agency Itar-Tass, come as Moscow struggles with a wave of protests over allegations of vote rigging in last Sunday’s elections.
Top world diplomats have also expressed grave concerns over the outcome of the vote, which observers say was marred by widespread irregularities.
“Such praise is appalling and deeply embarrassing. These remarks in no way reflect our official position,” a senior government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Such comments give “an extremely bad impression” he said, adding that the Moldovan-born former bouncer had made his remarks “without consulting” with other Israeli officials.
Senior foreign ministry officials quoted by Haaretz newspaper also described Lieberman’s remarks as “disgraceful.”
In a televised meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this week, Lieberman said he had been briefed by a small delegation of Israeli observers, including an MP from his ultranationalist Israel Beitenu party.
“Their answer was quite clear: The elections were absolutely fair, free and democratic. This is my opinion because I rely on our observers,” he was quoted as saying.
The elections, which saw Putin’s ruling party return to power with a sharply reduced majority, were marred by “frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation,” the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe said.
Earlier this week, both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they had “serious concerns” about the conduct of the elections, with similar concerns raised by Paris and Berlin.
United Russia party won 20 percent points less than the officially announced figure of just under 50 percent, a Russian election monitoring group said Thursday.
The Internet group Citizen Observer (nabludatel.org) said United Russia had received only 29.8 percent nationwide, and 25.8 percent in the Russian capital.
Their figures also gave the liberal Yabloko party enough votes to have won seats in parliament, which was denied them under the official results.