In July 2019, the Moscow City Election Commission (MCEC) refused to register the overwhelming majority of independent opposition candidates for the elections to the Moscow City Duma. In order to neutralise the negative effects of the MCEC’s decision, which provoked mass protests in Moscow and undermined the legitimacy of the elections, Russian state institutions and pro-regime organisations recoursed to a two-pronged strategy.
First, the Russian Public Institute of Electoral Law (RPIEL) headed by Igor Borisov invited – in cooperation with the Central Election Committee (CEC) and Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights – around 16 foreign individuals to observe the elections in the capacity of “international experts”, the majority of whom have a record of involvement in various pro-Kremlin efforts, including, but not limited to:
- taking part in the politically biased election observation missions in Russia and elsewhere;
- attempting to legitimise the illegitimate electoral processes;
- justifying Russia’s actions directed at undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity;
- regularly providing pro-Kremlin comments to the Russian state-controlled media;
- organising events aimed at amplifying pro-Kremlin propaganda.
Second, the CEC invited dozens of heads of national election management bodies, senior officials from international organisations, and “international experts” to participate in a conference titled “Digitalisation of Electoral Processes. Humanitarian Dimension,” scheduled to take place during the voting day. Some of the conference participants were taken to the Public Headquarters for Control and Observation of the Elections to the Moscow City Duma and the CEC’s Information Centre, and thus were exposed to the Russian pro-Kremlin media.
Russian officials and pro-regime media and organisations used the “international observers” and some participants of the conference “Digitalisation of Electoral Processes” to:
- provide international legitimacy to the elections with the Russian audience as the main addressee;
- boost the image of Russia as a world leader of election-related “technological innovations”;
- promote the allegedly positive image of Russia on the international stage, using the invited international experts as potential agents of the Kremlin’s influence in Europe; and
- promote a conspiracy theory that Western institutions tried to interfere in the Russian regional elections.
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