Thanks, But We Don’t Need Your Monitors
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

The conflict between Moscow and the Office for Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights, which is the election watchdog for
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s election
watchdog, over international observers has made Russia’s State Duma
election campaign the center of attention in many parts of the

The West interprets Russia’s unwillingness to cooperate with
observers as evidence of its intent to manipulate election results.
In fact, there is probably a different reason the entire question
of election monitors is such an issue.

There are serious doubts whether the observers will be able to
fulfill their intended functions at all. They can criticize various
provisions of Russia’s electoral law, but for every criticism,
another law can be cited that is, arguably, democratic in

Representatives of the OSCE are able to monitor elections in
many different countries. But the more advanced authoritarian
regimes of the 21st century know how to deftly manipulate, or
outright falsify, election results without resorting to the blunt,
obvious methods used in earlier times. If you take the narrow issue
of vote counting, there will probably be little to criticize in
Russia’s elections. Even though the Kremlin heavily influences the
entire political process and mass media, these concerns,
technically speaking, fall outside of the official mandate of the
election monitors.

The end result might be similar to what happened in Kazakhstan
last summer. There, the single pro-presidential party swept the
elections in a landslide using methods that violated the spirit —
but not the letter — of election laws. Although international
observers had no other choice but to acknowledge that there was
some progress made in the electoral process, the Kazakh government
had merely mastered the art of manipulating the political process
to its own advantage.

Russia’s actions are a natural manifestation of its «sovereign
democracy» ideology. The logic can be summed up as follows: This is
our country. Our people elect their own leaders, and it is nobody
else’s affair. We are prepared to allow foreign observers to
monitor our election process, but we will determine their number,
the terms of their stay and what they can and cannot do. And we
have no need of any «certificate of quality» from them.

The Kremlin is either consciously or unconsciously following the
example of another member of the OSCE — the United States. The
thought would never even enter the minds of U.S. politicians or
voters that their elections need to be monitored by outside
organizations. And even when Europeans criticize their electoral
procedures, Americans pay no attention to it whatsoever.
Nonetheless, an ODIHR mission monitored the 2004 U.S. presidential
elections, which received high marks overall, although the report
mentioned that some observers were forbidden from monitoring the
vote in certain states on the grounds that their presence would
have been a violation of state laws.

From the point of view of Russian ideologues, only a few truly
sovereign nations exist in the world, the main one being the United
States. That is why the United States is such a strong example for
the world. At the same time, the Kremlin takes little note of the
fact that, despite the idiosyncrasies of U.S.-style democracy, the
country has a longstanding system of competitive politics and a
mechanism for the regular, peaceful transfer of power.

Another key issue is this the source of legitimacy. In the
Copenhagen Document of 1990 delineating the OSCE commitments on
elections, it is written that, «The will of the people, freely
expressed through periodic and fair elections, is the basis for the
legitimacy of government.» In the opinion of the West, this implies
that an evaluation of elections made by independent outside
observers is needed to confirm the legality and legitimacy of the
elected government. In Russia’s point of view, such outside
evaluations, on the contrary, actually undermine the legitimacy of
a sovereign state because election monitoring can be used as a
pressure tactic and a way of meddling in its internal affairs.

The main question surrounding this issue is this: As a country
in transition, does Russia need to be monitored by more developed
nations? The practice of inviting international observers to
monitor elections gained wide acceptance in the early 1990s with
the emergence of many new Eurasian states that declared themselves

Russia has no desire to adopt the West’s way of thinking, and it
does not feel the need to answer to anyone regarding its own
internal procedures. The West, for its part, is losing hope that
Russia’s current course is only a temporary deviation from the
«right path.» As a result, there is increasing talk of coming to
terms with Russia’s «natural state» of having a strong,
quasi-autocratic government. U.S. President George W. Bush even
publically pondered whether Russian DNA could be «reprogrammed»
away from centralized authority. If that is the case, then why even
bother trying to interfere and influence events inside Russia?

Luckily, there are enough «experts» in the West to create new
ways to bring the two superpowers into confrontation based on such
polemical issues as liberal, free-market capitalism versus
authoritarian, state capitalism. Thus, instead of finding solutions
to the real problems facing the world, the two countries can
engross themselves in these invented problems and conflicts.

In the end, however, the conflict over these elections will have
little impact on Moscow’s relations with the West. The
deteriorating nature of the bilateral relationship has already been
firmly established, and now both sides are just digging their heels
in even deeper.

Even though U.S.-Russian relations play an extremely minor role
in the U.S. presidential campaign, the question of «Who lost
Russia?» still remains. In other words: Who in Washington let
relations with Moscow worsen to their present low level? In 2000,
the Republicans blamed President Bill Clinton for the «Russian
problem,» and now the Democrats are blaming Bush for the same
thing. It would be hard to call this a positive discourse, but at
least the subject is being discussed.

In Russia, only the marginal political factions ask, «Who lost
the West?» Few in Russia are worried that relations have worsened
with most of our Western partners. On the contrary, most voters and
party leaders are convinced, strangely enough, that locking horns
with the West means that Moscow’s foreign policy is successful. To
make matters worse, whenever politicians want to avoid touchy and
potentially incriminating internal issues, they focus attention on
Russia’s seemingly great achievements in its foreign policy.

Russia badly needs to affirm itself on the global stage,
especially after suffering such a heavy blow to its self-esteem
during the disastrous 1990s. But at some point it becomes necessary
to change the criteria according to which success in foreign policy
is measured. That is, we should not rejoice when one of our
politicians slams the door in the face of our international
partner. At the very least, we have to start a substantive dialogue
regarding this country’s foreign policy, which has deteriorated to
nothing but ideological and demagogic slogans. Otherwise, the great
number of «successes» that Russians love to boast about might very
well turn into serious, tangible failures.

| The Moscow