Opportunities for independent citizen election observation and civil society space in general have been shrinking steadily in Russia over the past decade. In 2020, changes were introduced to laws and regulations bringing further restrictions of rights and freedoms, which had a palpable impact on the space for citizen observation. The absence of provisions for direct accreditation of citizen election observers forces them to act on behalf of contestants or media and therefore contradicts the very idea of independent election scrutiny by civil society, and is at odds with international standards. Various other restrictions introduced on the eve of the 2021 parliamentary election campaign pose further organizational, administrative, and logistical challenges. The already oppressive legislation on “foreign agents” has been further expanded, considerably impairing the ability of civil society organizations and their supporters to engage in observation, voter education, and awareness-raising campaigns. Another law, on “undesirable foreign organizations,” aims at further isolating Russian citizen election observation from the international community. Both the “foreign agent” and “undesirable organization” laws envisage severe administrative or criminal liability for both organizations and private persons. At the same time, the Russian authorities are promoting election observation on a massive scale through so-called “civic chambers,” which were initiated and are controlled by the authorities.
This working paper aims to provide a brief update on the overall conditions for independent citizen election observation in the Russian Federation ahead of the Duma Elections anticipated to be held on 19 September 2021.