Observers say increasing authoritarian approach could strain ties with US and EU Russia's President Vladimir Putin risks estranging western nations with policies being increasingly viewed as undemocratic, observers said yesterday. Their comments came amid concern over the fairness of Sunday's parliamentary elections, which strengthened Mr Putin's grip on power. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party and its allies crushed the communists and shut liberal parties out of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago. That, along with the arrest on October 24 of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and foreign interference in former Soviet republics did not bode well for the country's future, Russian political scientist Dmitri Trenin said. 'This new-look foreign and domestic policy could be summarised as authoritarian, capitalism and expansionism,' said Dr Trenin, the deputy director of the Moscow office of the US-funded Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 'There's a danger of an estrangement between Russia and the US and the European Union.' Dr Trenin believed that for the US, the poor performance of liberal parties was confirmation that Russia had ceased to be a democracy. Mr Putin, who urged voters to back United Russia, is known to be eager to push through reforms which include changing the constitution, revamping the taxation system and restricting the powers of oligarchies. With most ballots counted, parties aligned with him were close to the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to approve constitutional amendments. The president is expected to comfortably win a second term in March and critics allege he wants to change the constitution so that he can keep the post beyond 2008. Sunday's vote was described by the continent's leading human rights and democracy body, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as 'free, but certainly not fair'. US State Department and White House spokespeople backed the criticism and stressed the importance of political and economic reform. Last month, administration officials expressed concern over the jailing of Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of the country's biggest oil company, Yukos, for alleged corruption and tax evasion. After a summit with Mr Putin in September, Mr Bush said he respected his counterpart's vision of 'a country at peace within its borders, with its neighbours and with the world, a country in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive'. Although a staunch supporter of the US-led war on terrorism, Mr Putin opposed the Iraqi war. Russia has been accused of interfering in political developments in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova to build a controversial air base in the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan. The director of Russian studies at Stetson University in Florida, Eugene Huskey, said western governments were uncertain about Mr Putin. While they mostly approved of his economic and foreign policies, he had used extra-constitutional means to alter the system to his benefit. The result was little discernable difference between United Russia and the administration.