Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said the decision of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin to run for presidency once again ruins "the prospect of much-needed political reform".
"The announcement in September that prime minister Vladimir Putin would run for president in 2012 led most analysts to believe that his election is a foregone conclusion, and cast a shadow over the prospect of much-needed political reform," the international rights monitor said in its annual statement.
It also expressed concern about the fact that the government refused to register new political parties before the parliamentary elections on Dec 4, 2011.
"However in 2011, as in previous election periods, pro-government parties benefitted from disproportionate access to media and abuse of administrative resources, resulting again in an uncompetitive electoral environment," the statement said.
HRW has criticised Russian authorities not only for elections but also for the lack of political competition.
Activists also expressed concern about attacks on human rights defenders in Russia. This is especially true about the North Caucasus, where law enforcement in 2011 failed to investigate such crimes effectively, HRW said.
In addition, human rights activists point to the facts that hundreds of families living in the Adler region of Sochi have lost their property through state expropriations because of the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"The regional government provided most homeowners with compensation, but in many cases these amounts and expropriation procedures were neither fair nor transparent," the statement said.
However, it also noted that steps had been taken towards liberalisation, such as President Dmitry Medvedev's decision in June to lower the threshold of votes for a party to be represented in parliament.