Kremlin-friendly election observers from Europe and US at the presidential elections in Russia, March 2018
1513 foreign electoral observers monitored the Russian 2018 presidential election which constitutes the largest foreign electoral monitoring mission in Russia’s history. 598 of these observers were deployed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR); 363 observers were sent by other international organisations; 65 monitors represented observers from national election committees from 26 countries and 2 disputed territories; and 482 monitors were invited by the lower (State Duma) and upper (Federation Council) houses of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.
Several Russian organisations formally not affiliated with the Russian authorities, in particular, CIS-EMO, the Civic Control Association and the National Social Monitoring, actively participated in recruiting and coordinating foreign observers who were officially invited by the Federal Assembly. Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Leonid Slutsky and his deputy Aleksey Chepa mediated between those formally non-state organisations and the Federal Assembly, although Slutsky invited several observers himself through his personal networks.
While Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) published a list of foreign observers present at the presidential elections, it refused to publicise the names of the foreign observers invited by the Federal Assembly. However, using OSINT methods we have identified 160 foreign observers who monitored the presidential election in Russia (125 observers out of 439) and Russia-annexed Crimea (35 observers out of 43). The majority of these observers are members of political parties from across the political spectrum, ranging from the far left through the centre-left and centre-right to the far right.
The analysis of 92 profiles of European, American and Japanese monitors who observed the election in Russia shows that at the least 68 of them had been previously involved in different pro-Kremlin activities, either personally or through their membership in certain political organisations. Those pro-Kremlin activities include, but are not limited to, participation in politically biased or illegitimate electoral observation missions organised by the Russian pro-Kremlin actors; illegal visits to annexed Crimea and occupied parts of Eastern Ukraine; public calls to lift the EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine; active engagement with the Russian state-controlled media; public support for Russia’s backing of the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The analysis of Russian media reports on the presidential election and profiles of the foreign observers invited by the Federation Assembly suggests that they were invited to Russia for three main reasons: (1) Russian media needed favourable comments from foreign observers already on the day of the election to demonstrate that the voting proceeded in a calm and orderly manner; (2) Russian media needed Kremlin-friendly foreign observers to relativise or neutralise any criticism of the presidential election from other foreign observers, especially from the OSCE/ODIHR, after the voting was over; (3) Russian media and Russian official sources used favourable comments from the observers invited by the Federation Assembly to disinform the Russian audience about the international perception of the electoral process in Russia.
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