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Spies, Lies and the OSCE.

Posted by democratist on March 14, 2012

March 14th 2012,

A few days ago we ran a piece suggesting that there was a high likelihood that the FSB were planning a “provocation” against the OSCE, because the international elections watchdog had been critical in their preliminary report on the presidential elections.

Since then, some additional evidence has come to light that may indeed be the case; one of Democratist’s friends, present during both polls has written to us about their adventures. They made the following points:

  • The presidential campaign was unfair because candidates were disqualified on technicalities, the media biased in favour of Putin.
  • Many people said they were afraid to demonstrate because they feared negative impact at work.
  • The electoral administration was professional, but completely dominated by United Russia, with allegations of bribery.
  • There were many more domestic observers in the presidential poll than in the parliamentary; both from parties and NGOs such as GOLOS. This may have reduced the number of irregularities on election day, although there were still plenty of complaints of ballot box stuffing, carousel voting, intimidation of observers and changing the figures on the protocols.
  • The counting process lacked transparency; no international observers were allowed entry to the GASvibory room, where the results were entered onto a computer.
  • Additionally, in St. Petersburg and Nizhegorodksy, international observers found evidence of so-called “phantom” polling stations; polling stations that proved to be non-existent when investigated (and where Putin received over 90% of the vote).
  • The number of NVT  (New Voting Technology) automated units in PECs was increased from the Duma polls, and it is believed that Russia is heading towards a system in the future where NVTs will be used in every PEC; this could lead to a number of problems as there will be no physical counting of the ballots.
  • There were fewer complaints received at every administrative level than during the Duma elections, but this was probably due to a general lack of confidence in the system, since many legal complaints have “gone missing” since the parliamentary polls.
  • Many observers experienced intimidation by individuals claiming to be immigration officers (but probably FSB). These claimed that the observers had problems with their police registration, visa etc. They put it to the observers that they were secretly funding the opposition and training domestic observers. There was evidence that emails and phone calls were intercepted, and that some local staff were working as informants.
  • The local press ran stories accusing the international observers of being spies.

Such then, is the welcome provided for the OSCE by the “managed” Russian democracy. But our initial question remains: Were the allegations of espionage just a form of intimidation? Or will the leadership choose to use them as an excuse to ensure that there are no international observers in 2018 (other than those “international observers” who are in fact controlled by the Russians themselves) or as part of wider political manoeuvring?

Posted in OSCE | 1 Comment »

A reply to Peter Lavelle’s, “The Return of Vladimir Putin.” In The National Interest.

Posted by democratist on March 9, 2012

9th March 2012,

A reply to Peter Lavelle’s article “The Return of Vladimir Putin” in The National Interest.

After a recent Facebook discussion, Peter Lavelle (of Russia Today fame) has asked me to review his new piece in the The National Interest.

To save time, I will highlight Lavelle’s main points in bold, which will be followed by my replies.

“There is ample evidence of some voting fraud in December, though hardly enough to change the final results.”

This is untrue for a two reasons. Firstly it is false because the considerable falsification that took place in December (6%-15% depending on who you believe) meant that more United Russia candidates were elected to parliament that should have been, and conversely other parties have less representation than they deserved.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is misleading because electoral fraud and the manipulation of public opinion in Russia take a wider form than just ballot stuffing on election day. If we look at the OSCE ODIHR final report on the parliamentary elections, we will see that they make the following points;

“Although seven parties ran, the prior denial of registration to certain political parties narrowed political competition. The contest was also slanted in favour of the ruling party. This was evidenced by the lack of independence of the election administration, the partiality of most media, and the undue interference of state authorities at different levels. This did not provide the necessary conditions for fair electoral competition… The denial by the Ministry of Justice of registration to a number of political parties reduced the choices available to voters. In one case, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that the state’s disbanding of one party was disproportionate and constituted an unlawful interference in the party’s internal functioning.”

So it is also necessary to look more broadly at the context of the parliamentary elections. The choice of parties was unfairly narrowed before the elections took place, and some parties which may have been represented in parliament under a fair vote were denied access to the electoral process. Additionally, both electoral administration and media were biased, and these also affected the final result. Therefore Lavelle is being highly disingenuous when he states, “United Russia’s poor showing in the parliamentary elections proves that the electoral mechanism reflects public opinion.” United Russia’s poor showing (which should have been a lot poorer) proves that a majority of people are not prepared to vote for the party, but this does not mean that the electoral mechanism accurately reflects the full range of public opinion.

“Politics during and after the presidential election is characterized by accountability and confidence.”

Accountability? Really? I again refer to the OSCE’s report on the parliamentary polls from December. They state;

“The process of adjudication of complaints’ by the CEC [Central Electoral Commission] lacked transparency and did not afford the contestants effective and timely redress. The CEC has not complied with the legal requirement that all complaints must be acted upon and responded to in writing. Representatives of most political parties expressed a high degree of distrust in the impartiality of election commissions at all levels and questioned their independence from various state administration bodies.”

So how “accountable” is that? And to what extend did the lack of accountability from the parliamentary polls in December effect the “confidence” which you suggest was present during the presidential election?

“Now parliament must legislate through compromise.”

This is misleading. It is easy to compromise when a high degree of consensus already exists (as discussed above). All three parliamentary “opposition” parties are in fact systemic to a greater or lesser extent (with corruption playing a critical role in keeping them all in line, see below). Characters such as Zhirinovsky and Lugovoi do not inspire much confidence and are unlikely to rock the boat. There is every indication that the Duma will continue to act as a rubber stamp.

“Putin’s intensive-growth strategy must take into account social demands that are hardly revolutionary or alien to him and his inner circle. They include respect for property rights, promotion of small- and medium-size business culture, a tax system that promotes economic growth, decent pensions for the elderly and a serious effort to tackle the scourge of modern Russia—pervasive corruption.”

This is very curious. Where exactly has this great reformer been for the last 12 years? And why was it not possible to deal with these issues during the previous period of “extensive growth” which Lavelle describes? The fact that such problems (especially corruption) continue to flourish strongly suggests that reform is unlikely. Transparency International rated Russia 143rd (out of 182 countries) last year (Russia was 80th in 1999).

The case of Sergei Magnitsky is instructive in this regard. He died in prison in November 2009 after being arrested by the very officials he accused of fraud. As far as I am aware, despite plentiful evidence, no action has yet been taken against those who originally stole $230 million from Hermitage Capital, nor against those responsible for Magnitsky’s murder.

For an indication of the source of much of Russia’s corruption, we need look no further than Angus Roxburgh’s analysis of the extraordinary good fortunes of Putin’s friends from his Saint Petersburg youth, and the Ozero dacha collective of which Putin was a member. (Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia, I.B. Tauris 2012). As an example, Arkady and Boris Rotenburg, Putin’s erstwhile judo partners, each now have assets worth $1.75 billion. Yuri Kovalchuk, from the Ozero collective is worth just under a billion dollars. Roxburgh provides many other similar examples.

But, going back to Magnitsky, the enrichment of Putin’s friends is just the tip of the iceberg. As Edward Lucas writes in Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West (Bloomsbury, 2012), numerous officials involved in that case from the interior ministry and tax department have in fact been linked to the FSB, and the fraud which was perpetuated against Hermitage Capital may well have been directed from the ministerial level.

In this regard, Roxburgh notes in Strongman, “…by far the biggest obstacle to foreign investment (or the creation of an international financial center in Russia) can be summed up in one word – corruption – a word so complex that one leading Russian businessman told me I would never, as a Westerner understand it. “Theft,” he said, “is not theft as you know it. It is the entire system – the political system, the business establishment, the police, the judiciary, the government, from top to bottom, all intertwined and inseparable.””

Professor Alena Ledeneva (of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL, and author of numerous books on the subject) has argued in a number of recent public discussions that the Putin corruption systema is, (much like the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era) fundamentally unreformable, and will remain in place until a change in the political or economic situation provokes a collapse. Given the evidence presented above, as well as the continued popularity of the government, and the involvement of large sections of Russian society in various corruption networks, the re-election of Vladimir Putin is extremely unlikely to herald a period of reform. Rather, a better case can be made that Putin has become captive to a system he helped to create and (just as was the case with Dimitry Medvedev), he will be unable to introduce the reforms Russia needs without alienating these critically important constituencies.

Since this is the case, while (as Lavelle’s article hints), the United Russia (UR) party will probably be officially rolled-up soon, the function of any replacement party (and doubtless much of its membership) will remain the same; it is the “party of power,” and (to quote Mikhail Gorbachev) a “bad copy” of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: At the regional level, it exists to bolster the existing power structures, for example by organizing the widespread electoral fraud we saw in the December elections. United Russia is merely the most recent incarnation of this “party of power.” It will not be the last.

The same can be said of any forthcoming cabinet reshuffles: things will change a little, so that they don’t really change at all. Ministers come and go, but ultimately the same small group of people will retain political and economic power.

“Consider challenger Mikhail Prokhorov’s remarkable 7.94 percent presidential vote return, in the wake of a very public fallout with the Kremlin.”

Fallouts can be manufactured or exaggerated, as Mr. Lavelle, of all people should know. Prokhorov is smart and would not have run (or have been allowed to run) without a green light from the top. It is interesting that he did not face any of the legal hurdles to his candidacy mentioned above, (and which were used to effectively prevent the candidacy of the liberal Grigory Yavlinsky. There remains every possibility that Prokhorov is essentially a long-term kremlin project; someone who might one day be needed to (yet again) provide the illusion of change, whilst essentially keeping the current system in place.

“For the next six years, Putin has no choice but to govern—not to rule, as he has in one form or another over the past twelve years. Normal politics have finally arrived in Russia.”

In fact, as we have argued, Putin probably has no choice but to autocratically “rule”, and not govern Russia for as long as he remains in power (in as far as “governance” – a rather vague and underspecified term as Lavelle uses it here, implies democratization or structural economic reform). And there is certainly much in Russia’s recent history that might cause us to doubt his assertion that “…there is every reason to believe that the Russians are on the path to build a democracy that they can call their own.”

Opposition figures such as Navalny and Udaltsov should avoid any temptation to work within the existing system because the “transformed political terrain” which Lavelle claims has emerged from the presidential elections exists only in his imagination: Co-operation with the regime would result in a rapid loss of support among their overwhelmingly urban and politically savvy fan-bases.

The only thing that has changed since December is that a small (but growing) section of the population is beginning to demand reform, and there has been some very minor media liberalization (which can be quickly reversed) – whereas previously almost no one cared about either of these things. If the opposition is really looking for power in order to drive through real change (as opposed to personal enrichment) then they need to be prepared to remain outside the system, and probably for a very long time indeed. Change is certainly coming, because Russian society is changing, but the tipping point is many years away; the oil price is rising, so social spending can remain high. Many people are enjoying materially better lives, and indeed much more freedom than Russians have enjoyed historically. Additionally the current system has the strong backing of the FSB (Federal Security Service), an organization which, as Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan point out in The New Nobility (Public Affairs, 2010), acts in a manner closer to an arab mukhabarat than a Western Security Service, and which therefore sees the protection of the regime as a key priority.

Posted in Electoral Fraud, NATO, OSCE, Russia Today, Russian Middle Class | Leave a Comment »

Provokatsiya: Regime may be preparing stitch-up job on OSCE.

Posted by democratist on March 5, 2012

5th March 2012,

The OSCE has done a thorough, balanced, and above all clearly evidence-based job in its observation of the 2012 Russian Presidential elections. However, despite their efforts at presenting their findings in diplomatic language, by telling the truth about the significant manipulation which has clearly taken place in these elections, they risk unsettling the regime to the point that some excuse will have to be found to discredit them, and ensure that they are not present for any future Russian polls.

In a press statement given this afternoon international observers noted that, “Although candidates in yesterday’s presidential election in the Russian Federation were able to campaign unhindered, conditions were clearly skewed in favour of one of the contestants, current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.”

Furthermore, observers made it clear that, there had been problems (often serious) during the counting process at around a third of the polling stations they had visited.

That manipulation of the process was left until the count is hardly surprising. Much was made by the regime of the cameras which had been placed in almost all 94,000 polling stations, enabling the public to observe the vote over the internet, and supposedly deter fraud.

However, it now seems clear that the “workaround” employed by the authorities to surmount this obstacle to the desired result (exaggerated in favour of Putin, probably by about 7-10%) was to reserve the bulk of their manipulation until after the completion of voting. From what the international observers have said, it appears that, once the cameras were safely off (or at the very least since they lacked the resolution to observe the count in any detail), it was “business as usual.”

But in making public their findings, and because the OSCE ODIHR is respected for its professionalism and therefore influential both in the West and among the intelligentsiya within Russia, it seems very likely that the organization now risks a serious counter-reaction from the regime. Given the nature of the current government, and the (so far unpublicized) scrutiny the OSCE have been under from the FSB since they started working in Russia last year, this will probably manifest itself through a tried and tested KGB ploy; the provotatsiya (“Provocation,” “set up” or “stitch-up”).

It is telling that Vladimir Churov, head of the Central Electoral Commision (ex-KGB, and famous for having declared that Putin is “never wrong”) today accused “some” (so far nameless) international observer organizations of espionage: Apparently, Russia is a country where the head of the electoral administration feels that it falls within his remit to make such comments – although quite how remains unclear.

But, given the controversy that the OSCE’s statement is likely to stir up – with opposition demonstration planned both for today and the coming weeks – it will be interesting to see to what extent Churov’s allegations will be picked up by the leadership and what (if any) contrived “evidence” the FSB will have cooked up to prove the observer’s perfidy.

It should be remembered that the OSCE ODIHR were effectively banned from observing the Russian elections in 2007/08 (after their severe criticism of the 2004 polls). This time around, it seems quite possible that they will be kicked out permanently, with all the fanfare that a paranoid espiocracy like Putin’s Russia can muster.

Stay tuned…

Posted in CIS Media, OSCE | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Moldova 2011: A Renewed Opportunity for EU Diplomacy.

Posted by democratist on January 7, 2011

7th January 2010,

Democratist has continued to take a keen interest in Russia and the EU’s geopolitical manoeuverings following the November 27th elections in Moldova. While several polls in the CIS in 2010 have been broadly perceived as “successes” in terms of Russian foreign policy (Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus) Democratist sees the current situation in Moldova as holding out at least a little hope for European influence in the former Soviet space.

In the first half of December both Russia and the EU offered alternative trade deals,designed to sway the formation of potential coalitions to their own advantage during the period of negotiation that followed the inconclusive poll: Russian presidential chief of staff Nariskin, hoping for a deal between the traditionally pro-Moscow Communists (PCRM) and Marian Lupu’s Democrats offered inclusion in Russia’s proposed customs union, as well as cheaper gas and a resumption of banned Moldovan wine imports. Meanwhile, attempting to encourage a continuation of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) which had run the country since September 2009, the EU pushed its association agreement as a path towards more comprehensive free trade, and a proposed visa liberalization plan, while leaving the prospect of eventual Moldovan accession to hover in the background.

On 30th December, having failed to come to an arrangement with the Communists, the Democratic Party agreed to the re-establishment of the AIE; Lupu was elected speaker of Parliament and, in the absence of two of the 61 votes required by the constitution for election to the substantive post, appointed to replace Liberal leader Mihai Ghimpu as acting President. The AIE has not yet attempted to have Lupu formally elected to the presidency, since under the constitution a new parliamentary vote would have to take place if this is not a success. Instead, Prime Minister designate Vlad Filat has suggested the coalition may offer the Communists a ministerial post in the new cabinet in exchange for the two additional votes required.

It remains to be seen if the PCRM will take Filat up on his offer. They have not been willing to do so in the past and complained that the November elections were rigged (despite a thumbs up from the OSCE). If they decide against, another election seems inevitable by the end of 2011 unless a loophole can be found. However, since the electorate is unlikely to thank the Communists for having put them to the trouble of voting four times in under three years, such a strategy would not be without some risk.

As for the Russians, from what Democratist can gather from a recent article in RIA Novosti’s Russia Profile, their mood seems to have shifted over the past few weeks to a mixture of disappointment at the Communists’ waning popularity and inability to form a coalition (implying some loss of influence), a belief that Russia’s continued position as a source of remittances for Moldova will act as a counterweight to that trend, and the hope that Marian Lupu will be someone they could work with. There is also an unwillingness to allow relations with Moldova to sour the more important relationship with the EU.

And so the ball is now back in the EU’s court: Moldova may have to return to the polls at the end of 2011 or, with the support of the PCRM Lupu may be elected to a five-year term as President, but either way an opportunity now exists to show other CIS countries such as Ukraine and Belarus, what it is possible for an impoverished country like Moldova to accomplish through an improved relationship with the EU.

It is time to see whether those free-trade and visa liberalization plans are all just talk – or not.

Posted in Elections, European Union, Moldova, OSCE, Russia Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Belarus 2010: An “internal matter.”

Posted by democratist on December 20, 2010

December 21st 2010.

Democratist is disappointed and upset, but not especially surprised to learn of the results and fallout of yesterday’s presidential election in Belarus.

Since the signing of a series of economic agreements earlier this month, the Russians appear to have decided, in the words of Prime Minister Putin that “the Belarusian leadership has taken a clear course towards integration with Russia,” and suitably mollified, their desire for Lukashenko’s ouster has fallen by the wayside – for the moment at least.

Subsequently, reading between the lines of the OSCE’s sensibly diplomatic preliminary statement (which nonetheless provoked the ire of the newly confident Lukashenko), it appears that it was business as usual for the Belarusian electoral administration over the last few days, and the incumbent has been returned to office with just under 80% of the vote, according to the highly questionable official results.

Subsequently, seven of the nine opposition candidates that stood against Lukashenko have been arrested (including one who was dragged from his hospital bed after a police beating) along with 600 of the several thousand protestors brave enough to demonstrate against this charade of an election in Minsk last night.

While the Belarusian authorities have behaved abominably in both their conduct of the election, and the violent crackdown that has followed it, the reaction of the Russian government has served to underline their own extraordinary cynicism, and more specifically, Dimitry Medvedev’s real attitude towards the democratic process to which he paid so much rhetorical homage earlier this year.

According to Reuters, when asked, Medvedev described the Belarusian elections as an “internal matter,” and did not comment on the police crackdown.  He is quoted as saying, “I hope that as a result of these elections, Belarus will continue on the path of creating a modern state based on democracy and friendship with its neighbours.”

And for all its “strong condemnation” of the fraud and violence, and demands that the opposition candidates be freed, the West is left looking weak and ineffectual, with Lukashenko and the Russians the only game in town.

For the time being then, it seems that Belarus will only change when Russia changes its mind about Lukashenko. However, real support for democratization in Belarus (or indeed Russia) in Moscow is lacking, and will continue to be so, regardless of whether Putin or Medvedev wins in 2012.

Posted in Belarus, Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia 2012 Elections, Russian Foreign Policy, Russian Liberalization | 5 Comments »

Book Review: “Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can” by Michael McFaul.

Posted by democratist on November 29, 2010

29th November 2010.

As Michael McFaul, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, and latterly Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the US NSC notes in his preface to Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). “After eight years of the George W. Bush Administration, most Americans, as well as many people around the world, had grown tired of the United States’ efforts to promote democracy in other countries.”

And yet, while the paramount objective of US foreign policy has always been to defend the security of the American people, from the very beginning of the republic US leaders have consistently defined a special, ethical role for the US in world affairs.

McFaul argues passionately, persuasively, and in great detail against the adoption of a narrowly “realist” or isolationist foreign policy in reaction to the mistakes of the Bush administration, and for the continued relevance of democracy promotion for reasons both ethical and practical.

In the introductory chapter, he neatly summarizes his perspective in a single sentence; “Under democracy, people around the world enjoy better government, more security and economic development. In parallel, the advance of democracy abroad has made Americans safer and richer.”

At the core of his argument is the claim that, “The history of the last 200 years, but especially the last 80 years, shows that American security, economic and moral interests have been advanced by the expansion of democracy abroad, while reliance on realpolitik frameworks [i.e. alliances with autocracies] as a guide for foreign policy has produced some short-term gains, but many long-term setbacks for American interests.”

Advancing Democracy Abroad is therefore essentially an expanded, detailed and very timely restatement of the Kantian argument for the international benefits of the spread of democratic government, in light of  the practical concerns of foreign policy, and as such, equally a statement of Democratist’s own broad core position.

McFaul points to the long-term security advantages for the US that have stemmed from enduring alliances with other democracies, as well as democratization, and the economic and reputational dividends of democratic expansion. By way of contrast, he considers the three main problems of alliances with autocratic states have been sustainability (e.g the Shah in Iran until the 1979 revolution), consistency (Nasser in the 1950’s, or Saddam in the 1980’s and 1990’s) and cost (billions of dollars given to Iraq for its war with Iran in the 1980’s).

As such, McFaul calls for a  pragmatic and commonsense foreign policy based on “Wilsonian liberalism with a realist core.” He argues that, while at times the US needs to work with autocratic regimes to pursue vital national interests, it must never lose sight of its values, or of the critical importance of internal regime type for its ongoing relationships with other states.

In this regard, he devotes a detailed and useful chapter considering the wide range of instruments the US and its allies have available for the gradualist facilitation of democratic development. These include “dual track” diplomatic engagement; trade and economic incentives; security guarantees,  the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US’ participation in the OSCE, funding for foreign domestic NGOs and election observers, media resources such as Radio Free Europe, and the International Republican and National Democratic Institutes.

McFaul is also fully aware that the United States’ democratic and human rights failings over the last decade have considerably weakened America’s standing in the world, and made it much harder for US leaders to call for democratic practices in other parts of the world.

As such, the renunciation of military intervention as a tool of democracy promotion, criticism of autocratic allies (including Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia), and the reassertion of democratic values at home are, he suggests, important prerequisites to the successful promulgation of liberty abroad.

Posted in Book Reviews, Democratization, Human Rights, OSCE, Russia - US Relations | 9 Comments »

Azerbaijani Democracy and Europe’s Gas Supplies

Posted by democratist on November 10, 2010

10th November 2010,

Democratist has been disappointed, but not surprised by the conduct of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections last Sunday, 7th November.

The results, and the way in which they were obtained, reflect a long, and now deepening tradition of post-Soviet authoritarian rule there. 

As far as we can gauge, all the standard dirty tricks were applied in abundance (media manipulation, voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing etc.) in what was basically a textbook case of widespread and methodical electoral fraud, with an added dash of nepotism to underscore  just how little the Aliyev clan, buoyant on both the financial and geopolitical advantages of Azerbaijan’s vast oil and gas wealth, is concerned to maintain the facade of democracy for either domestic or international purposes. 

Opposition parties, predictably, took only two of the 125 legislative seats on offer, while the president’s wife, uncle, and indeed his cousin’s husband were all elected easily.

The main message of these polls therefore, was that the regime feels that its current position is so secure that is no longer answerable to anyone; neither its own citizens, nor foreigners. 

But if there are redeeming aspects to this sorry business, they are:

Firstly that, having learned from the fallout from the Azerbaijani Presidential elections in 2008, and despite expectations from many that western organizations such as the OSCE would go easy on the regime, the OSCE Election Observation Mission (EOM) did in fact stand up for the principles it embodies, spoke truth to power, and criticised these elections for the sham they were. 

In the words of the head of mission, Audrey Glover at the 8th November press conference, “Regrettably, our observation of the overall process shows that the conditions necessary for a meaningful democratic election were not established. We are particularly concerned about restrictions of fundamental freedoms, media bias, the dominance of public life by one party, and serious violations on election day.”

This is good news for the West’s somewhat tattered reputation among the Azerbaijani opposition, and for the OSCE’s reputation throughout the region.

Secondly, that both the EU (in the form of an admittedly rather weedy statement from Catherine Ashton) and the US, in a separate comment by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley, have fully backed the OSCE’s findings.

And therefore it would seem that the EU and US are less willing to put up with the regime’s shenanigans than might have been the case before the 2008 economic crisis.

But perhaps we should not be so surprised, since lower hydrocarbon prices, and the rapidly increasing diversity of Europe’s gas supplies, which are now staring to include the re-export of formerly US-bound Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) cargoes, may well be mean that the Aliyev regime’s international position is no longer as strong as it was.

Posted in Azerbaijan, Democratization, Elections, Electoral Fraud, European Union, Hydrocarbons, OSCE | 1 Comment »

When it comes to Ukraine, “fortress Europe” is no longer an option.

Posted by democratist on November 4, 2010

4th November 2010,

Democratist has been pleased to read in the Financial Times that the US embassy in Kiev has made a statement criticising the local elections held in Ukraine on Sunday, saying they “did not meet standards for openness and fairness”.

On the basis of our own experience in the field, we feel that reports from the professional and well-respected Ukrainian domestic observation organization OPORA that numerous procedural violations took place are likely to be accurate.

The poor conduct of these recent elections confirms an increasing trend back towards authoritarianism in Ukraine since Viktor Yanukovich won the Presidential elections this February.

This is especially disappointing because it marks a clear reversal from the huge improvements in the professionalism and credibility of electoral processes (and human rights in general) that took place after the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Yanukovich, having taken over the presidency in a generally well run poll, seems at best indifferent to the task of preserving Ukrainian democracy: This has been repeatedly confirmed over the last eight months by a series of media crackdowns, the harassment of the Universities and foreign NGO’s, judicial interference, and the reestablishment of a presidential form of government.

However, Democratist cannot help but feel that Yanukovich would be paying much more attention to his democratic credentials if the EU had, at some point over the past couple of years, offered Ukraine a serious (albeit long-term) prospect of EU membership.

More specifically, Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions (POR) apparat may have thought twice about interfering with the electoral process (for example in relation to the staffing for the Territorial Electoral Commissions) over the last couple of months if they had once again had 60 OSCE ODIHR long-term election observers breathing down their necks, backed up by 500 short-term observers on election day, and a little coordinated diplomatic pressure from Western embassies, as was the case earlier this year.

So, the West probably already possesses most of the necessary tools needed to encourage the Yanukovich government to return to the democratic path. The point, implicit in the United States’ statement,  is that it is now for the EU (especially those such as Germany and the Netherlands, who have reservations about Ukraine’s potential membership) to realize what is at stake both for Ukraine and the wider region, and act accordingly.

Or do they really think that a “fortress Europe” approach, with (yet another) increasingly corrupt, poor and resentful country on the EU’s eastern borders, is really likely to be in their own best long-term interests?

Posted in Elections, Electoral Fraud, OSCE, Ukraine, Western Foreign Policy | Leave a Comment »

Oh dear, ODIHR.

Posted by democratist on November 1, 2010

1st November 2010,

Democratist is rather concerned about the results of Sunday’s local elections in Ukraine.

According to an exit poll by international market research firm GfK, President Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions took a substantial 36% of the vote; nearly three times the tally for the next placed Fatherland opposition party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The final results remain to be seen, but Tymoshenko’s camp have already been complaining about electoral fraud, and are refusing to accept the result in three Oblasts.

Democratist’s initial reaction is that we cannot help but think that it might have been wiser for the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to have forfeited their general policy of only sending a very few (if any) election monitors to observe municipal elections (a mere four in this instance) and to have sent a more substantial team, which would have underscored the OSCE’s commitment to Ukraine’s continued democratic development.

Instead, this lacklustre performance may well provide additional encouragement to those who point to the EU’s foot-dragging in relation to offering Ukraine a firm membership prospective, as evidence that Europe and the US are essentially indifferent to Ukraine, and the country should not worry too much about observing the democratic niceties.

Additionally, it would have also provided a credible alternative international “voice” to that of the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) observers, who predictably stated that they did not register any election violations.

Posted in Elections, Electoral Fraud, Human Rights, OSCE, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

Mr Hancock and the Azerbaijanis

Posted by democratist on September 1, 2010

1st September 2010

It is interesting to see that Mike Hancock MP has been in the news again;

It would appear that The Guardian is also now on the case, and is starting to ask some rather pertinent questions about Hancock’s relations with the Russians.

By way of contribution to the debate, Democratist remembers, at the time of the Azerbaijani Presidential elections in 2008, Hancock came out with the following statement – in his capacity as a PACE observer in the OSCE-led, joint Election Observation Mission – just after midday on polling day (i.e. a good eight hours before polling closed).

“The election process can be valued positively”, Member of PACE Observation Mission, British Parliamentarian Mike Hancock told APA. Stressing his observation mission during the previous elections in Azerbaijan, the British Deputy said he had observed the election process in seven polling stations in Yasamal and Sabayel districts. “I value the activity of the electoral commission members positively. It is observed that they mastered instructions on the organizing of the elections perfectly. Voters were also educated well”. Mike Hancock expressed regret that some opposition leaders did not join the elections. “It means that opposition is not active. It is not the fault of the President that some oppositional candidates did not join the elections. I consider that the opposition behaves undemocratically in these elections. It would be better if the opposition joined the elections even if they lost, because the election is important process for the political organizations”.

Quite something for one person to say, before polling had even ended – especially if they are supposed to be part of a team of several hundred people. And especially if they had been instructed not to make personal comments to the media, but rather contribute to the joint statement (as we believe is the case for all OSCE observers, even PACE MPs). Indeed, if we were more cynical, Democratist might suggest that the statement almost seemed as if it were prepared in advance.

Democratist was also informed that Mr. Hancock apparently managed (pretty much single-handedly) to make the OSCE preliminary statement on those elections far more positive than it would otherwise have been, through his influence as a PACE MP observer on the drafting process.

It is therefore also to be noted that, in addition to his cordial relations with the Russians, Mr Hancock has continued since 2008 to defend the Azerbaijani regime on many occasions.

Here’s a quick example, the relevant passage from which we reproduce below;

British deputy Michael Hancock noted that he sees Azerbaijan’s future positively and told that there is democracy in Azerbaijan. “There is democracy in Azerbaijan. Therefore, the Azerbaijani people voted for the current government. In this country there is no strong opposition, which refused to participate in the elections. The Government of Azerbaijan will continue to cooperate with the Council of Europe. In this direction is the political will of the authorities of Azerbaijan’, he said.

Posted in Azerbaijan, Democratization, Elections, OSCE, UK Foreign Policy | 3 Comments »