Round II: Kremlin’s Media Misrepresent International Observers

As we have reported many times already, Kremlin-controlled propaganda frequently manipulate reporting to create the impression that the Ukrainian presidential election on March 31 will be rigged and falsified. The disinformation machine uses the authority of respected international organizations to buttress its claims. Previously, it was the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; this time, Kremlin-backed outlets manipulated a report by OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). After Kremlin manipulation, the report appeared to severely criticize the Ukrainian government.

“OSCE/ODIHR Notes Numerous Reports of Bribing Voters Before Ukraine’s Elections,” headlined TASS, with reposting by Rambler and other Kremlin-backed media. “The report notes the existence of numerous allegations in attempts to bribe voters and misuse of public funds,” claims TASS. The quotations selected for the article included only those that criticized the pre-election landscape in Ukraine.

In reality, the report produced by ODIHR is quite neutral. The eleven-page document describes the legislative and political background of the 2019 presidential election and summarizes the latest developments in the race. The long list of facts demonstrates that in general, the elections are unfolding properly based on the following criteria: the election is “in line with constitutional provisions,” the existing complaints of candidates who failed to be registered “were rejected by the court,” the government “aimed to facilitate” participation of vulnerable groups in voting, media diversity is strong, and so on. The report also contained objective remarks about the existing evidence of violations.

In particular, the ODIHR report stated that “the overall context [of Ukrainian elections] is characterized by the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation.” Additionally, “despite resolute efforts by the authorities,” voting could not be carried out in The Donbas. Unsurprisingly, Kremlin-backed propaganda outlets failed to mention these statements.

Kremlin-backed propaganda consistently practice selective reporting regarding the Ukrainian elections; they frequently exaggerate real and alleged violations of electoral legislation in Ukraine and they tend to hyperbolize any statements about such violations.

Kremlin-backed RT reported, “68 percent of Russians expect that the results of elections in Ukraine will be rigged.” TASS headlined: “Tymoshenko Informed the EU Ambassador About Large-Scale Rigging of Elections by Poroshenko’s Team.” Ukraina.ru reported that “Kharkiv students found an ad about ‘work’ during the voting day.” Influential pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia published a long and detailed report about tools that the Kyiv government uses to falsify voting. Recently, Russian Prime Minster Dmitriy Medvedev doubted that the Ukrainian elections would be “legitimate and without falsifications.”

Once again, we see the Russian propaganda machine manipulating facts in service of the long-term interests of the Kremlin. These attacks aim to malign the Ukrainian government and those Western countries that support Ukraine, undermine Ukrainian voters’ trust in the election process, question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities after the March presidential election, and sow doubt about the democratic process as a whole. The Kremlin employs these narratives to fight against democracies worldwide.