On February 7, 2019, Ukraine’s parliament introduced legislative amendments to ban citizens of the Russian Federation from acting as official observers in Ukraine’s elections. While the ban drew criticism (mostly from Russia), the Kremlin’s interference efforts in Ukraine’s election thus far create the distinct possibility that Russian observers in Ukraine may likely be Kremlin propaganda agents. This move appears to be yet another part of Ukraine’s concerted effort to protect its elections from outside interference.
While Ukraine’s allies harbor doubts about Ukraine’s decision to ban Russian election observers, they understand the reasoning behind Ukraine’s security concerns. Kurt Volker, US special representative in Ukraine, did state that Russians should participate in the election monitor so as to preclude any attempts at discrediting the integrity of the election. Volker wrote on Twitter, “OK if Russian monitors are part—but under ODIHR authority. No games. [Ukraine] needs to have confidence in its own democratic institutions.”
After the Rada passed the amendments, a Russian NGO called the “Russian Fund of Free Elections” announced its decision to continue as planned and send observers to Ukraine in defiance of the ban. One may doubt, however, the intentions of an NGO so closely tied to the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. Indeed, the leadership of the Fund, chaired by Vasiliy Volkov (retired Three-Star General) and managed by Maksim Leskov (a graduate of the KGB Academy), calls into question its ability to objectively observe and ensure the smooth execution of free and fair elections.
Despite international ambivalence about Ukraine’s decision, Russia’s conduct renders questionable its insistence on sending observers into Ukraine. The risks to the integrity of the presidential election are real, and we must take Ukraine’s concerns seriously.