Russian election watch

by Henry on November 17, 2007

The FT “reports”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/02c2471c-943d-11dc-9aaf-0000779fd2ac.html that the OSCE has withdrawn from monitoring elections in Russia.

Europe’s main election monitoring group said on Friday it was scrapping plans to deploy observers to Russia’s forthcoming parliamentary elections in a decision that could cast doubt on the integrity of the poll. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe claimed Moscow had imposed “unprecedented restrictions” on its activities. Russia had slashed the number of observers it would admit to the December 2 election and then repeatedly delayed issuing visas for OSCE monitors.

It may be that this is (as a quoted Russian deputy claims) the prelude to mass falsification of results, but my impression (as a non-Russia specialist) is that the government doesn’t need to do much falsifying of polls, if any, to win. They’ve already succeeded in stage-managing democracy so well that they won’t need to (admittedly, the more liberal parties in Russia haven’t done very much to help their own cause either). This is more likely a product of Russia’s general desire to revise the post-Cold War international order, and get rid of the bits (such as election monitoring) that it thinks limits its autonomy both at home, and in neighboring states (for background information, see this “earlier post”:https://crookedtimber.org/2007/02/12/out-of-control-ios/).

For me, there are two interesting questions going forward. First: are other countries (perhaps more importantly the EU than the US), going to take this quietly, or are they going to seek to embarrass the Russians in some way, claiming that there are problems with their democracy, and perhaps seeking to sideline Russia from complete participation in some of the clubs that it has joined since the demise of the USSR?

Second, how are autocrats in other states (e.g. those in Central Asia) going to respond? My best guess is that those countries that see benefits from closer integration with the West (e.g. Georgia, the Ukraine) will continue to invite external election monitors, while those that don’t will follow Russia’s lead. If this prediction bears out, we will see a little bit of Cold War politics beginning to seep back, with an increase in hostility between Russia and its satellites in Central Asia and elsewhere (anomalies such as Belarus and Moldova) on the one hand, and West and Central European democracies on the other, with both sides contending for influence over shaky democracies in between (such as Georgia and the Ukraine). All of which would intersect in complicated ways with energy politics in the region. This is only a best guess from a non-expert on the region (albeit someone who does know a fair amount about the OSCE) – agreements/disagreements welcome in comments.