Honesty as Policy

Izvestia June 20, 2007

How the West will try to discredit Russia’s elections

[The techniques for engineering “color revolutions” focus on the legitimacy of elections. They aim to demonstrate that the electoral process is invalid, and seize power. It seems likely that there will be attempts to apply these “Orange techniques” to the Russian electoral process in 2007-08.]

The forthcoming electoral cycle – the presidential election of 2008, preceded by the parliamentary election of 2007 – is very important for Russia.

The first reason is the need to develop the positive economic and social trends which have emerged during Vladimir Putin’s times president. Political life has stabilized, and political institutions have grown stronger. But the consequences of the profound systemic crisis of the 1990s still haven’t been completely overcome. The second reason is that Russian politics lacks an established positive tradition of transferring power. When power passed from Gorbachev to Yeltsin, the country fell apart. This is a very important task for the authorities and the elite: to ensure a smooth transition of power in 2008, maintaining overall continuity in the policy course, while allowing for some modifications of it. The legitimacy of the electoral process is highly significant here.

The techniques for engineering “color revolutions” focus on the legitimacy of elections. They aim to demonstrate that the electoral process is invalid, and seize power. It seems likely that there will be attempts to apply these “Orange techniques” to the Russian electoral process in 2007-08. I would identify two strategies here: a Birch Revolution and weakening the future president.

The Birch Revolution strategy, now being developed by teams working for opposition oligarchs, involves provoking a social and political crisis, then promoting a puppet candidate of their own. In contrast, the strategy pursued by the political forces loyal to Uncle Sam does not involve overthrowing Vladimir Putin’s team; rather, it aims to weaken the next president and Putin’s team – by announcing that although he is the president, the election that brought him to power was not entirely fair and involved some law-breaking. An extensive media campaign has been launched already to promote the idea that our elections can’t possibly be free and fair, because Russia lacks democracy. The presidential election is being declared undemocratic months before campaigning actually starts.

Another political strategy maneuver stresses a negative interpretation of Vladimir Putin’s role in the electoral process: claiming that since the choice made by voters seems likely to depend on his recommendations, the presidential election will reflect Putin’s will rather than the will of the people. This ignores the fact that Putin’s high popularity isn’t the only factor here; his role is substantial because voters want his policies to be continued by the new president. Naturally, if a candidate is endorsed by Putin, voters will see this as the main argument guaranteeing that this candidate will carry on with Putin’s policies.

Another technique that will be used involves the system of foreign observers who monitor elections. Foreign observers are not neutral; they are politically biased. They are selected and funded within the framework of major political projects. As a rule, they arrive in any particular country with their minds already made up about the political situation there; and their decision about whether an election is free and fair is determined long before the election takes place. This was clearly demonstrated at elections in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. During the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, election observers in eastern Ukraine greatly outnumbered those in western Ukraine. OSCE observers simply turned a blind eye to blatant election fraud on the part of the Orange forces.

The system of international election monitoring these days is more fraudulent than most of the elections being observed. The outcome of any “fairness test” largely depends on whether the winner has the approval of those countries which dominate the international organizations doing the election monitoring. The most important of these are the OSCE and its special department for elections – the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has practically become an independent international on-governmental organization with the right to pass judgment in the name of the European community. Russia, like many other countries, has long been calling for reforms to the OSCE and the ODIHR – but it still hasn’t been sufficiently active in insisting on reforms.

Denying access to international observers would be perceived by international public opinion as proof that elections are rigged. In order to enhance the legitimacy of Russia’s elections, I think it’s important to ensure participation by numerous observers who take a positive view of Russia: observers from Kazakhstan, southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, Italy, Austria, Germany, China, India, Brazil, Serbia, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, the CIS, the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The next technique involves acts of provocation by the quasi-opposition. At the peak of the electoral process, we can expect that certain fringe groups will attempt to arrange clashes with police and political opponents – in order to ensure that pictures of their “Dissenter Marches” being dispersed are seen on television all over the world. These marches will be organized for only one purpose: in order to be dispersed. Certain opposition politicians, whose popularity ratings are minimal, will run for president – not with the aim of really participating in the election, but in order to declare that they weren’t allowed to register, or to withdraw at the last moment, branding the election as “unfree and unfair.”

The battle over the legitimacy of Russia’s elections will extend beyond Russia, to international organizations and the media. The process has been launched already: journalists are being worked over with large quantities of information, and preparations are being made for appropriate demarches in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and various parliaments. These projects, which aim to damage Russia’s political system, have to be resisted by Russian counter-projects. We need to work intensively with the Western media, providing information about the competition developing in Russia within the election framework. These days, it’s not enough to be honest – we need to be skilled in proving our honesty to public opinion, including critical opinion.

Efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Russia’s elections serve a simple purpose: to weaken the next president and take advantage of his weakness to secure numerous concessions from Russia on a broad range of issues. What’s at stake in the election legitimacy question is Russia’s reputation, the power of the Russian government, and tens of billions of dollars in the Russian economy.


Izvestia June 20, 2007

Author: Sergei Markov, political analyst

Translated by Elena Leonova


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