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MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin told Russia's state security service on Wednesday to raise its guard against outside attempts to meddle in a March election which is expected to bring to power his hand-picked successor.
Putin's warning of foreign intrigues, stopping short of naming states, appealed to a growing nationalist mood likely to help buoy his chosen candidate to power, Dmitry Medvedev.
Critics, however, complain of an authoritarian climate stifling democratic debate ahead of the March 2 poll.
Europe's main election watchdog told Russia it would refuse to monitor the presidential vote unless Moscow eased restrictions. Putin, who has indicated he will continue to wield political influence even after Medvedev has taken over, has made no secret of his irritation with foreign observers.