In the first days of 2019, Kremlin-controlled propaganda outlets focused mostly on the Ukrainian Orthodox church’s split from Russia. These outlets also reported on the electoral campaign, including key topics such as the nominations of the presidential candidates and the potential “illegitimacy” of the upcoming presidential elections.
Since 2012, Ukrainian polling stations have been operating in many countries outside of Ukraine, including Russia; Ukrainian citizens living abroad use them to vote in elections. On December 31, 2018, the Ukrainian Central Electoral Committee (CEC) closed five polling stations in Russia for security reasons. “We cannot guarantee that there will be no dangerous provocations during the election day,” the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin explained. The recent Kerch Strait confrontation warrants such caution. However, for pro-Kremlin propagandists like 112 Ukraine, the closure of these polling stations in Russia offers supposed evidence of potentially rigged elections in Ukraine.
New Inform reported on Sergei Markov’s remarks regarding the closing of the polling stations. Markov, a Russian political scientist who serves as the Co-Chairman of the National Strategic Council of Russia and often spouts the Kremlin line, stated that the Ukrainian government allegedly only wants to “please foreign states under which tune it dances.” Markov states “Due to political and economic crises, around 3.5 million people escaped from Ukraine. There is no secret that most of them fled to Russia. These people…view Russia as a country that has became their second Motherland…These people will be cut out from voting. However, they are able to make a difference in the elections.” The same reports were copied in different outlets (see here and here).
This type of messaging aims to spread disinformation and diminish the integrity of the entire election process and its results. A member of Russia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) Yevheniy Shevchenko also published a statement arguing that the closure of these stations violates the constitutional rights of Ukrainians and international norms. “Elections in Ukraine cannot be considered as valid and democratic anymore. The West needs a nice picture of the elections, to prepare confrontation with Russia for the future,” News-Front.info assures.
Along with that, the Kremlin-controlled information space found another reason to question the legitimacy of Ukraine’s elections. Some “experts” such as Renat Kuzmin, a Deputy Chief Prosecutor during Viktor Yanukovych’s regime have argued that the mandate of the Ukrainian CEC had expired already in 2014; as a result, Kuzmin argues, neither the post-Maidan general elections in 2015 nor the upcoming elections this year are legitimate. This disinformation emerged back in October 2018 and is still being recycled today.
This is blatantly false. The closure of these polling stations will not exclude Ukrainian citizens from performing their civic duty. While Klimkin noted that “more than 2.5 million citizens of Ukraine” currently reside in Russia, during the early presidential elections of 2014, only 1,334 out of 49,418 registered voters actually cast their ballots at Russian polling stations. Ukrainian citizens only temporarily residing in Russia will have the option to vote at their place of residence. Moreover, Klimkin assured that citizens “who live in Russia on a permanent basis will have the opportunity to vote at the embassies of Ukraine in Georgia, Finland, and Kazakhstan.”
As we have already mentioned before, the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign keeps preparing the audience for “the dirtiest elections in Ukraine ever,” which makes sense as part of a strategy to discredit the whole process and create and amplify the mistrust towards the Ukrainian state.
Attempts to discredit candidates in the presidential elections can be found here: