Take three elections in the same country.
The West has a thousand ears
In Election A, international observers led by the OSCE note a massive media bias in favor of the party in power, as well as numerous other campaign violations and strong-arm tactics to manipulate the elections in the regions. The OSCE's verdict: The elections were free and fair, "without manipulation."
Four years later, Election B takes place. The OSCE notes an overwhelming media bias in favor of the party in power as well as manipulation in certain regions. The OSCE's verdict: once again, relatively free and fair. "The [...] election represented a benchmark in the ongoing evolution of the Russian Federation's emergence as a representative democracy."
Three years and nine months later, Election C takes place. The OSCE notes an overwhelming media bias in favor of the party in power as well as regional strong-arming. The OSCE's verdict: The elections were "free but not fair," "fundamentally distorted," and "failed in meeting many OSCE and international standards."
What changed? Was Sunday's Duma election (Election C) really that much worse than the heavily-rigged yet publicly applauded Russian presidential elections in 1996 (Election A) and 2000 (Election B)? Has the OSCE suddenly found Jesus (or rather, Jefferson)? Or is the West reacting negatively to something else entirely, using the election as an excuse?
Keep in mind that the OSCE isn't some hippie-staffed NGO. It is a direct arm of the West on human rights matters, and it flexes its muscle, via strong judgments or whitewashes, according to the West's (and particularly America's) geopolitical interests rather than according to some idealistic belief in democratic principles. It has soft-pedaled its verdicts on rigged elections in Western-friendly countries, and de-legitimized questionable elections in unfriendly countries such as Yugoslavia and Belarus. The OSCE even acted as a "cease-fire monitor" front for NATO in the lead-up to the war in Kosovo in 1999, using its status to deliver weapons and gather intelligence against Serbia. The OSCE's verdict on Russia's elections is the West's official verdict. Bush's spokesman, Scott McLellan, told reporters, "It was the OSCE which monitored the elections, and they expressed concerns about the fairness of the election campaign. We share those concerns."
Moreover, the OSCE's reports and judgments become the mainstream Western media's adjectives used to describe events such as Sunday's elections. Its judgments shape the Western mainstream's image of a country and the degree to which it is "our people" or something else, even an enemy. In 1996 and 2000, most of the Western media fell in line with the OSCE's glowing assessment, portraying Russia as progressing towards the West even as it became increasingly authoritarian. After Sunday's elections and the OSCE's hostile reaction, Russia will now be relegated into a lower tier of nations which are not like us, with the implication being that Russia may even become a kind of rogue or hostile country.
First, let's go back to the presidential elections in 2000, which Putin "won" in the first round with over 50% of the vote. That election campaign most closely resembled Sunday's election in that the state television media, with the possible exception of the already-teetering NTV, was overwhelmingly biased in favor of Putin, while the regional leaders, eager to curry favor with the new vozhd', pulled all available strings (ie: "administrative resources") in order to hand as much of their respective regions' votes as possible to Putin.
The OSCE, along with the leaders of the West, fell over themselves to praise that election as democratic and congratulated Putin on his victory.
"The OSCE should not have approved [the 2000 elections]," Yabloko party spokesman, Sergei Loktyonov, told the eXile. "It's hard to say why they did that."