Russia warns US: Don't 'meddle' in upcoming presidential election

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.

RELATED: Vladimir Putin through the years

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Vladimir Putin through the years
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Vladimir Putin through the years
P362575 05: A class photo with Vladimir Putin, (fourth row, second from left) dated 1966 in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Laski Diffusion)
368975 01: (AMERICAS ONLY) FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, poses for a photograph in this file photo with his parents Maria and Vladimir Putin in1985 just before his departure to Germany. Putin was sworn in as Russia''s second democratically elected president May 7, 2000, pledging to restore Russia as a great power. (Photo by Laski Diffusion/Newsmakers)
ITAR-TASS: LENINGRAD, USSR. Vladimir Putin seen with his wife Lyudmila and daughter Maria. File photo from family archive was taken in spring 1985. (Photo ITAR-TASS) (Photo by TASS via Getty Images)
St, petersburg mayor anatoly sobchak and austrian chancellor's wife christine vranitzky during a ceremony to name 'austria square' in downtown st, petersburg, austria has pledged to restore the square, future president of russia, vladimir putin, looks on, far left, september 1992. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
President George Bush meets with President Vladimir Putin at the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. Bush was meeting with Putin to thank him for signing the UN resolution demanding disarmament of Iraq. (Photo by ?? Brooks Kraft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
KRASNODAR, RUSSIA: Russian acting President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to a boy (R) during his visit to the Children's regional clinic hospital in Krasnodar 11 February 2000. Putin arrived in Krasnodar for a two-day visit to take a part in the All Russia Conference on emergency measures to stabilise and develop the Russian agro-industrial complex. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Uzbek president islam karimov helping rf president vladimir putin put on a traditional robe, uzbekistan, december 1999. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura greet President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila outside of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. Bush was meeting with Putin to thank him for signing the UN resolution demanding disarmament of Iraq. (Photo by ?? Brooks Kraft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY4: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (L) pose with their wives Ludmila Putin (2nd L) and Ana Botella before their lunch at Moncloa Palace June 14. Putin said he had no reason to believe the arrest of media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky was politically motivated but vowed to examine the case, which has stirred stormy protest in Moscow. (Photo credit should read SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Vladimir Putin - Politician, Mayor St. Petersburg, Russia - signs an agreement about the marketing of inventions. Second Mayor and Senator of Economics of Hamburg Hans-Juergen Krupp (right) (Photo by Ambor/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Moscow, russia, outgoing russian president boris yeltsin (r) shaking hands with russian prime minister and acting president vladimir putin (l) as he leaves moscow's kremlin, the seat of russian power,1999. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Russian prime minister vladimir putin seen casting his vote during the elections to the state duma, at the polling station #2026 in moscow's kosygina street,moscow, russia, december 19, 1999. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
N362234 01: (FILE PHOTO) Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov on August 16, 1999. President Boris Yeltsin announced on national television Friday, Dec. 31, 1999 that he had resigned and presidential elections will be held within 90 days to replace him. Yeltsin said he was stepping down immediately because he wanted Putin to succeed him. Putin, the country's most popular politician, immediately took control of the government and will serve as acting president until the elections. (photo by Laski Diffusion/Liaison Agency)
SEVEROMORSK, RUSSIA - APRIL 7: Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin watches the tactical exercises of Russia's Northern Fleet in the Barentsevo Sea, 06 April 2000. Vladimir Putin spent the night underwater in a nuclear submarine near the Arctic Circle. (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
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“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 continues to call for a boycott of the election ― something he’s done repeatedly this week

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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