Dec. 27 (UPI) -- A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman warned the United States to avoid involvement in upcoming Russian presidential elections.
President Vladimir Putin is expected to win his fourth term in office on March 18. He faces weak competition, and the strongest rival, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from running because he is a convicted felon. Navalny maintains his embezzlement conviction was politically motivated retribution for his reform and anti-corruption campaigns and says he will appeal the ruling.
The warning by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova came on Wednesday. Several days earlier, Clay Noel, a U.S. State Department foreign policy specialist, told the Russian news agency Tass that he was concerned over "restrictions on independent voices" in the Russian election by Russia's Central Election Commission.
Zakharova said Noel's comments constituted meddling in the election campaign.
"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. The funniest thing about it is that this statement was made by the same people who put the foreign agent label on RT and Sputnik, persecuted Russian media worldwide and invested vast sums in 'countering Russian propaganda,'" she said.
RT and Sputnik are Russian news websites which the State Department regards, since November, as foreign agents.
Several Congressional and intelligence investigations were opened after the U.S. intelligence community said Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.