UPDATE: On November 13, the European Platform for Democratic Elections published its report on the elections in the unrecognized territories within Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The report contains a full list of election "observers," along with their party affiliations if known. The report can be found here.
On November 11, authorities in the Russian-occupied, self-proclaimed “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” held elections which were roundly condemned by the Ukrainian government. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv called the elections a “sham,” while the European Union issued a statement declaring them to be “illegal and illegitimate,” and stating that the E.U. would not recognize them. The German and French government also issued similar statements condemning the elections.
On November 12, however, Russian state media agencies reported the results of the elections, and RIA Novosti reported that the elections were “democratic and open” according to observers.
Russia has a history of using unqualified election observers both for elections within Russia and in the territories it controls by proxy. Polygraph.info has reported on this practice on several occasions. Typically the observers are a mixture of openly pro-Moscow individuals from various far-right and sometimes far-left European political parties.
This election appears to be no exception. For example, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group noted that one of the requirements for being an election observer is that the individual monitors do not reside within the territory of the DNR or LNR.
However, some observers clearly do reside within those territories, and some of them have either actively engaged in pro-”separatist” activities or, in one case, have actually served in the military forces of the Russian-led “republics.”
For example, one of the “observers” was Janus Putkonen, a Finnish citizen who not only resides in occupied Donetsk, but also founded a media outlet there. A Vice reporter detailed an encounter with Putkonen in Donetsk, where he was also serving in the “republic’s” information ministry and vetting all foreign reporters working within the territory. He has reportedly lived in Donetsk since 2015, meaning that even by the pseudo-state’s own regulations, he would be disqualified.
One story from the Russian news agency TASS quotes one “observer” named Artur Leier, who is described as an assistant to a member of the Hamburg parliament. However, it turns out that Mr. Leier is a representative of the “Eurasian Society of Germany.” In a video from April 19, 2018, Leier is interviewed by a pro-Kremlin “journalist” Caleb Maupin in Yalta, in Russian-occupied Crimea.
The United Nations, in a report on election observation for its publication "Women Watch" pointed to the need for impartial observers, assembled from outside the election location:
“International observation groups usually keep themselves separate from domestic groups in order to preserve their image of impartiality, since the credibility of their assessment and conclusions will depend to a large extent on whether they are perceived as neutral and impartial,” the report stated, noting there can be advantages to having a “domestic” monitoring team working with international observers.
In Donetsk, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not carry out any observation of the elections.
“Although I don’t know who exactly might have observed over this weekend, there was no one involved from the OSCE,” a spokesperson from the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights wrote in response to Polygraph.info.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which observes other activities in the territories, did mention the elections in a recent spot report, but could not comment on their authenticity.
“On 11 November, in non-government-controlled Donetsk city, the SMM observed a slight increase in the presence of armed formations members in some areas of the city centre,” the report states.
“It saw buildings with signs that read ‘polling stations’, with two to four people in full combat gear and with assault rifles present outside most of them. In the vicinity, the SMM saw stalls similar to market ones.”
Beyond this, the report states that “Other civilians separately shared concerns that people felt compelled ‘to vote’, as otherwise they would face interruption of salaries or health care in non-government-controlled areas.”
In regards to international election monitoring missions, the Carter Center, the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division and the National Democratic Institute developed a set of principles for election monitoring, which the organizations say serve as “professional guidelines for election observations” – guidelines endorsed by more than 50 organizations.
The principles noted by the Carter Center include a lengthy process.
“Election observation missions start long before election day, with experts and long-term observers analyzing election laws, assessing voter education and registration, and evaluating fairness in campaigns,” the Carter Center Democracy Program states on its Web site.
Election day tasks include polling place observation, that continues for “days and weeks after the election” as observers evaluation vote tabulation, any disputes over the election and final results.
TASS reported on the day of the Donetsk election that “foreign observers” arrived just the day before the election.The TASS article noted that the delegation from Russia included members of the Federation Council and Russia and that observers who arrived on Saturday came from Abkhazia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, France, and South Ossetia. We have not seen a full list of the foreign observers.
Novaya Gazeta reported November 12 that only Russian state media were allowed to be present at polling stations and that "Russian, Ukrainian and foreign media were allowed on the territory of the republics."
Interestingly, the newspaper reported that Kremlin officials had declined to recognize the legitimacy of the election, only that they "respect" the outcome.
Only days before the election, U.S. State Department Special Representative Kurt Volker in a conference call with reporters November 8 called the elections "a mockery" where people under occupation have "no freedom of choice."
He called for a UN peacekeeping mission to create security and conditions for free elections .
"With the UN forces there you would need a period of time to organize elections, to allow for registration, to allow for candidates, to allow for campaigning, and to have those elections go forward," said Volker answering the question of a TASS writer.
And so our judgment is that a statement the day after that “the elections were democratic and open” can only be judged as false, given the lack of professional standards and what we know of the make-up of those who arrived Saturday.