On 18 August 2021, in the course of the electoral campaign for the State Duma elections, the Russian Ministry of Justice declared the Golos Movement, a Russian unregistered election monitoring network, a “foreign agent”.
"This decision is intended to prevent independent observation of the Duma elections, which will take place in exactly one month. It is another indication that mass electoral fraud is already being prepared in the run-up to the elections," says Stefanie Schiffer, Chair of the board of the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE). "Russia's authorities must fulfill their constitutional obligations and international commitments and abstain from harassing independent election observation."
It was not until the end of 2020 that a tightening of Russian NGO laws created the possibility of branding even unregistered organizations that engage in political activity and receive foreign assistance as “foreign agents”. The Golos Movement is the first unregistered organization to which this law is now being applied. It remained unregistered ever since its predecessor, the Association Golos, was forced to stop activities in 2013 after reporting massive fraud during the parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2011 and early 2012. During the recent constitutional vote in 2020, Golos registered numerous violations and claimed that the vote neither met Russian nor international standards.
Following the prevention of an international OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission under the pretext of pandemic protective measures and considerable restrictions by the Central Election Commission on the transmission of video recordings from polling stations, this latest development means that the State Duma elections will practically take place to the exclusion of independent and professional election observation.
As a "foreign agent", the Golos Movement is subject to significant reporting obligations, it must have its activities approved by the authorities and it must label all its publications as those of a "foreign agent" under the risk of all technical equipment being confiscated and prison terms. Potential election observers are to be deterred from participating in election observation by being stigmatized. The law also aims to isolate citizen election observers from their international counterparts.
The European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE) itself was declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian Ministry of Justice just before the presidential elections in 2018. This criminalizes all its activities in the Russian Federation and with Russian citizens. In 2018, the EPDE had to stop its cooperation with Russian election observers. Golos' membership in the EPDE was temporarily suspended.