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17th Oct 2021

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French MEPs lead bogus EU monitoring of Russia vote

  • Russian president's United Russia party won, to no surprise (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
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At least five MEPs and several minor politicians from EU states, many of them French, have spent the past few days in Russia peddling propaganda that last Sunday's (19 September) parliamentary elections were free and fair.

The MEPs included French far-right deputies Hervé Juvin, Jean-Lin Lacapelle, and Thierry Mariani. They were joined by German far-right MEP Gunnar Beck and Slovak independent deputy Miroslav Radačovský.

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  • France's Thierry Mariani was already on a European Parliament blacklist (Photo: ep.eruopa.eu)

All of them praised Russia's election in glowing terms in statements to Russian media, even though Russia had jailed its best-known opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and excluded most independent candidates from taking part.

It has also counted votes from irregularly-created Russian passport holders in Russia-occupied east Ukraine and Crimea, delegitimising the overall national tally.

And Russia's lack of transparency was such that the leading European election-monitoring body, the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), as well as the European Parliament (EP), officially refused to send anybody.

The rogue MEPs were joined by at least three national MPs from France - Jean-Claude Edmond Boucher, Jérôme Lambert, and Michel Larive - as well as by French senator Stéphane Ravier, according to EUobserver's sources.

They were also joined by far-right local politicians from Germany - Gunnar Lindemann and Olga Petersen.

And several other public figures from EU countries joined in, including: French far-right politicians Aymeric Chauprade and Emmanuel Leroy; former French MP Michel Voisin; retired French ambassador Eugène Berg; and former French National Electoral Commission member Véronique Rouez.

The Austrian secretary general of the European Ombudsman Institute, Joseph Siegel, also tried to go, but did not make it because he failed to present a negative Covid-test to travel.

The EU guests were invited in an informal capacity as "experts" rather than as formal observers.

Russia formally invites monitors from international organisations only.

And it also flew in 245 of these, according to its Central Election Commission.

But they all came from Russia-friendly institutions, such as the Arab League, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and also praised Sunday's vote in glowing terms.

The fact MEPs or MPs came as informal "experts" helped them to wriggle out of potential sanctions for pretending to have had an official mandate from the EP or from their national assemblies, according to Anton Shekhovtsov, the director of the Centre for Democratic Integrity, a think-tank in Vienna.

It also helped them to hide from EU controls because there is no publicly available list of all the "experts" who travelled to Russia.

"Russia is doing this to protect them," Shekhovtsov said.

But at the same time, Russian media made a song and dance out of their EP credentials, making Russian people think they represented the EU body.

One Russian outlet also quoted Radačovský's son, Mikhail, who also came to observe the vote and whom it described as a "councillor of the European Parliament", even though there is no such job title in the EP.

The EP has a blacklist of fake election-monitors, which is updated on a rolling basis and which already has Juvin, Lacapelle, and Mariani, among others, on its books.

Those registered are banned from going on official EP election-monitoring missions until the end of the year.

Their names are not normally made public, weakening the deterrent-effect, however.

And EU embassies abroad do not give the EP any help in identifying culprits, leaving it up to a handful of EP staff to scour the internet for clues.

A more robust approach would be to enshrine international monitoring standards in the MEPs' code of conduct, which is binding and violations of which can trigger fines, Shekhovtsov noted.

"Countries such as Russia are undermining the work of legitimate institutions, such as the ODIHR, both at home and abroad, because the general public doesn't know who to trust anymore," he said.

Opinion

September's Russian election - a glimmer of hope?

The parliamentary elections set for 17-19 September could be an opportunity for democracy in Russia - amidst voter dissatisfaction over economic recession, growing inflation, environmental problems and an unfolding health crisis.

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