Russian election watch

by Henry Farrell on November 17, 2007

The FT “reports”: that the OSCE has withdrawn from monitoring elections in Russia.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”:

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.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Nosemonkey / Europhobia » Russian elections: two weeks to go
11.18.07 at 2:39 pm
Kosmolinks #5 « Kosmopolit
11.18.07 at 4:43 pm
Global Voices Online » Russia: Election and the OSCE
11.20.07 at 3:37 pm



Matt 11.17.07 at 10:08 pm

Two quick points, though I mostly agree here. First, there is no need to falsify election results since 1)The media is so completely controled by the state (i.e., Putin) that outside forces can get no traction. It’s as if all chanels were like Fox News but much, much more so. 2) The election rules have been changed over the last several years so as to make it very, very hard for opposition parties to compete at all. There is more than a bit of worry that no party other than Unity will pass the 7% mark needed to get into the Duma. (Probably LDP and one or so other party that competes with Unity only on which one can most vigrorously support Putin will sneak in.) Secondly, trying to embarrass Russia here is very unlikely to work because of, 1) state control of the media, 2) the high level of nationalism in the country now, 3) the tendency to see such actions, both by the officials and by most people, as an attempt to make Russia week. If anything I suspect that such attempts would back-fire.


ikl 11.17.07 at 11:03 pm

Actually, I suspect that results will be falsified rather systematically. Not becuase this is explicitly ordered by the Kremlin (Putin’s party would win easily without any cheating) but because given the non-competitive nature of these elections turnout is likely to be low and really low turnout might be embarrassing to certain regional authorities who will want to produce numbers for Moscow that look pretty on paper. I could be wrong about this, of course, but this is my sense of how provincial Russian officials are likely to think . . .

I do agree that mostly this is about setting a favorable precedent for future elections when this might matter as well as a more generalized desire to put of finger in the eye of international institutions that are perceived as interfering in Russian internal affairs.


Matt 11.18.07 at 4:14 am

ikl- you might be right that regional elections might be falsified to make turnout look higher. I’m not sure if this will have to be done. My impression (from sometimes living in provincial Russia) is that there is a lot of support for Putin there, despite the lives of those further away from Moscow not being that great. But one of the changes made to the election laws so as to favor Unity was the removal of the law that _required_ a certain minimal turn-out for an election to be valid. Now, some regional officials may well decided they need better numbers so as to look like they did their part for the cause, but this will no longer be a _legal_ requirement.


Sortition 11.18.07 at 4:41 am

[A]re 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 [?]

So the EU, having occupied the moral high ground by allowing many of its members to take part in an illegal war and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, will embarrass Russia by harping on the fact that it does not cooperate with elections monitors. Does this make sense to you?


Daragh McDowell 11.18.07 at 11:12 am

Booting out OSCE does seem to be more a bit of chest-puffery on behalf of the Kremlin rather than a signal of intent to diddle the results. If anything, the Kremlin will be cooking the books to raise the numbers of OTHER parties such as LDPR and the Communists as the prospect of Unified Russia sitting alone in the Duma is an extremely embarassing one. Putin also seems to have a general, if rather vague, desire to create a multi-party system that can be used to funnel discontent away from Red Square and give the people the illusion of some choice in their political future, as well as creating a means of gauging the political temperature and keeping anybody getting too comfy in their Duma seat. Putin more or less said that Unified Russia is devoid of policy content in a recent speech and that he’d like to see that change.

Having said that, Matt is correct that voter fraud is endemic in the peripheries. Expect most of Bashkortostan to report 100% turnout, 100% Unified Russia. Obviously Moscow doesn’t want OSCE reporting on that. This is probably why the number of observers was drastically restricted in the first place.

As to other states responses? Well no-one in the Russian section of the CIS is going to quibble obviously. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan will continue to let OSCE in for inspections, and cheerfully ignore their reports afterwards (Ukraine maybe less so.) Belarus I don’t think is even in OSCE so that’s not a worry. As for the Central Asian States – Kazakhstan is still pushing hard for the OSCE chair in 2009 so will do nothing obviously designed to annoy it as an organisation. Kyrgyzstan is wobbling its way towards some form of pluralism so will probably want observers. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will perhaps let a token few in, and again ignore the result. Similarly Armenia. Turkmenistan will remain absolutely closed off.

The bottom line is that Russia has had its own ‘team’ in the CIS for a while now. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova form the opposition to it in the form of the GUAM regional group, and are running to the West. Everyone else looks to Russia. In terms of a battle for influence in the shaky democracies – well its been going on for a few years now.

As to the US and Europe? Well there are few enough clubs that they haven’t let the Russians into. It’d be pretty difficult to justify blocking WTO accession based on this, so my best guess is now, but it won’t help the already tense relationship. However, the Russians have signalled their intention to make a play along with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO – post-Soviet defence bloc consisting of all the CIS states except GUAM) to try and use OSCE to undermine NATO, by emphasising the original security roles OSCE was conceived with. This will probably simply lead to an even greater sidelining of OSCE if the West feels its more trouble than its worth.


Katherine 11.18.07 at 2:28 pm

I’m rather puzzled by comment 4. The EU cannot “allow” or “disallow” any of its members to take part in any particular war, justified or not. It’s not that kind of club, yet. Also, two of its largest and most prominent members – France and Germany – took very anti-invasion stances at the time.

Criticise any hypocrisy of the UK and the US over this if you like, but targeting the EU on this one seems odd.


Sortition 11.18.07 at 5:09 pm

I’m rather puzzled by comment 4. The EU cannot “allow” or “disallow” any of its members to take part in any particular war, justified or not.

What a funny creature the EU is. It can do nothing when its own members and its closest and most influential ally launch an illegal war and engage in mass murder but it can “seek to embarrass” or “sideline” Russia when it does not cooperate with elections monitors. Very puzzling indeed.


Katherine 11.18.07 at 6:21 pm

Erm, I’m not sure your point is now. The fact is that the treaties of the EU do not allow the EU to stop military action by any of its members. If you disagree, please do point to which article in which treaty you think does so.

It can “seek to embarrass” or “sideline” by the means at its disposal – political statements, trade sanctions, whatever. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish.


Sortition 11.18.07 at 7:27 pm

I see my point is indeed deep and hard to understand. Let me try to make it a bit more explicit:

Did the EU “seek to embarrass” or to “sideline” any of its members or the US over the Iraq war, or is this treatment only reserved to those guilty of serious crimes like not cooperating with elections monitors?


Daragh McDowell 11.18.07 at 9:38 pm

Shorter Sortition – I am intellectually unable to engage with the argument at hand. I will therefore revert to a default position of bashing the West to try and cover my ass.


Sortition 11.18.07 at 10:26 pm

I made my point as clear as I could, so I’ll allow whoever is reading this to judge who is engaged in reverting to default positions instead of engaging arguments.


sanbikinoraion 11.19.07 at 10:34 am

Sortition’s making a fair point – if the EU as a bureaucracy can criticize Russia for rigging elections, why did it not criticize the UK for invading Iraq? (If indeed it did not criticize the UK – I have no idea whether it did or not, but I’m certainly not feeling the burn from EU sanctions!)


Katherine 11.19.07 at 10:47 am

Well, bear in mind that it hasn’t actually done anything yet – as I understand it, that was a suggestion by Henry. Bit harsh to get on the back of the EU over something it hasn’t done yet, hey?

As for the Iraq war, that was entirely outside of its area of competence. Various individual member states, on the other hand, as members of the UN Security Council, were taking very different views of the Iraq war and acting, as was their right, as individual states. How appropriate would it have been for a collective body, without competence in the area of military action, to have taken a stance for or against its various member states? Note that Russia of course is not a member of the EU – the EU taking a stance on something regarding an external state is somewhat different from taking a stance on things regarding internal states.

In any event, arguably the more appropriate European body to be commenting would be the Council of Europe not the EU – still collective but in a more related area – that of human rights. Difficulty with that is that Russia is a member, which is one reason why the Council of Europe has been somewhat quieter on the subject of election irregularities in Russia than, say, Belarus.


novakant 11.19.07 at 12:24 pm

just to confuse things a little: Russia is a member of the OSCE


CKR 11.19.07 at 4:41 pm

That’s Ukraine, no definite article.

One is the name of a country, the other a designation of borderlands.


engels 11.19.07 at 10:53 pm

Good to see it’s not just the Decent “left” who can wheel out the “but did you condemn…” gambit…


Sortition 11.20.07 at 5:33 am

“but did you condemn…” gambit…

So expecting someone to hold himself and his friends to the same moral standards that he holds his adversaries is a gambit?

With the application of the “shorter” technique, and the references to rhetorical “gambits” and “laws”, it seems that making substantive arguments is quickly becoming an obsolete mode of reasoning.


Katherine 11.20.07 at 8:22 am

Sortition, you seem to misunderstand the nature of the EU. This is demonstrated by your use of the word “him” – there is no singular with the EU, there is the collective. If the member states don’t unanimously agree on something, or agree in way that the treaties counts as agreeing (through Qualified Majority Voting), then there is no “EU” view on anything. On the Iraq war, several of its own members had extremely differing views – who exactly would have been the “EU” in those circumstances?

Throughout this, you seem to be unwilling or unable to recognise that since Russia is not a member of the EU, the EU is going to behave differently than if it is an internal matter. Or perhaps it is that you do not know what the EU is or what it does.

You also seem to be able to compare apples and oranges quite happily, whilst forgetting that there actually is no orange yet in existence, since the EU criticising Russia over its election results hasn’t happened yet – (a) the elections haven’t happened and (b) criticism was an idea of Henry’s.

Do you actually wish the EU had criticised someone over Iraq? Or do not wish it to criticise Russia? Or do you just dislike the EU enough to criticise it over something it hasn’t done/may not do?


engels 11.20.07 at 12:33 pm

Sorry, Sortition, I must have missed your substantive argument on the topic of possible election rigging in Russia. All I saw was something roughly equivalent to “Hey, look! It’s the Goodyear Blimp!”


Sortition 11.21.07 at 4:18 am


The fine points of EU procedure may be of interest to legal scholars but I consider them beside the point. The point is (as I believe I made clear several times already) that any body (or person) that holds adversaries to a higher standard than it holds its own members or friends (the US) is being hypocritical, and thus cannot expect any criticism it makes to be taken seriously.

Arguments that this differential treatment is the unavoidable result of some legal or procedural rules are simply too self-serving to be entertained.

To answer your specific question: I would like to have seen the EU take specific steps to “embarrass”, “sideline”, and in other ways punish the invaders of Iraq. Had that happened, I would have been quite sympathetic to EU criticism of more minor offenses such as non-cooperation with elections monitors.


If my points above appear non-substantive to you, then we will have to differ on what “substantive” means.


Katherine 11.21.07 at 12:18 pm

The point still being, Sortition, that the EU hasn’t done anything about the Russian elections because the Russian elections haven’t happened yet.

The “finer points” of EU procedure, as you put it, are actually the fundamental points of EU structure, but never mind.

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