Systematic erosion
 
"There is no real opposition ahead of the election. There is no real electoral campaign battle," Behr said.
 
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In a report published on Tuesday, Amnesty said new laws restricting non-government organisations, police breaking up anti-Kremlin demonstrations, and complaints of harassment from critics of the Kremlin were all part of a systematic destruction of civil liberties in Russia.

The report said: "The space for critical views, and for independent media and independent organisations to operate, is shrinking."

Europe's main election watchdog, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has pulled out of monitoring the vote, citing the restrictions being imposed on its work.

The Council of Europe's chief observer has said he fears the election will not be sufficiently free or fair.

Popular candidate

However, opinion polls show that most Russians back Medvedev, endorsed by the popular Putin, whom many voters credit for overseeing the strongest economic boom in a generation.

The Kremlin says it is committed to human rights and democracy, but accuses Western governments of using rights as a political weapon to try to limit Russia's resurgence on the world stage.

Last year, police put down street protests by an anti-Kremlin coalition. Several murders or mysterious deaths of journalists critical of the Russian authorities remain unsolved.

Behr was non-committal about the prospect of change under Medvedev.

"As a human rights organisation, we always work with the hope that things will get better," she said.