Putin Aide Ivanov Says Cold War ‘A Fact of Life’; US Denies Russian Election Monitors Access

October 24, 2016
Sergei Ivanov (L), Vladimir Putin (C) and Anton Vaino (R). Photo by EPA

LIVE UPDATES: Putin aide Sergei Ivanov said to make overture to the US, but his claims Russia didn’t hack DNC and doesn’t want Donald Trump to be president lack credibility.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

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Russian Election Monitors Complain of Lack of Access to US Polls; White House Urges Russia to Join OSCE Delegation

Natalya Karpovich, a deputy from the ruling party United Russia, said that a Russian delegation to observe the US elections has been denied permission and told to join the OSCE delegation, Gazeta reported.

“Americans are not prepared for honest elections,” she said, picking up a theme already familiar to Americans from the claims by presidential candidate Donald Trump that the election will be “rigged”:

“I think these actions are stupid and an inability to build dialogue with others for the sake of one’s people. America loses here, as only the weak fear having a dialogue and inviting full-fledge observers.”

The 57-member Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe is sending its largest delegation ever to monitor the US elections – 10 times as many monitors as in past years.

Karpovich, a former boxing champion and mother of 6 children as well as a former chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Family, Women and Children is currently a deputy in the State Duma. She is likely best known in Russia for her decision to return to a Russian state orphanage a child she had raised for 5 years because she said he was “too aggressive,” and for not supporting the Russian law against foreign adoptions.

With the US media coverage of claims of election interference, there is a lot of scrutiny on the process, especially in “swing states” and states with troubled histories of voter suppression. The Russia government has naturally picked up this theme for its propaganda value, and that’s exactly the response from US officials — the Russian monitoring expedition is a propaganda stunt that the US should not facilitate.

On Friday, October 21, White House spokesman John Kirby said in response to queries about the alleged blocking of Russian monitors that there was “no policy in place to refuse Russian observers” and that Russians have been offered places on the OSCE team, The Independent reported.
But the Russians have decided the level of access via OSCE is “inadequate” and demanded separate access.

As The Independent reported, the US responded:

Mr Kirby said: “We told the Russian government that they were welcome to observe our elections.

“The fact that they have chosen to not join the OSCE observation mission makes clear that this issue is nothing more than a PR stunt.”
The story that the US is denying Russian election monitors access to observe the US elections next month is likely to be replicated in many ways and misreported as a cover-up, even as these elections get more attention than most in US history.

Karpovich’s claim in her interview with Gazeta that this was the “first” such denial of access by US officials overlooks the fact that such denials of foreign monitors are not new as can be seen from elections in 2008 and 2012.

Sputnik, Russia’s propaganda outlet abroad, claimed that foreign monitors would come “for the first time,” but in fact OSCE and other monitors have covered US elections many times of the past years.

In the past, precincts in Texas, for example, have not permitted OSCE monitors inside polling stations, and the State Department has explained, that the issue of access to voting areas is decided by individual states. 

So while the federal government can say it has no policy to deny Russian monitors (which it would more likely do at the level of denial of a visa to enter the US), individual states and localities may do differently.

What this means is that the monitors are welcome to come to the United States and travel to various cities and stand outside polling stations, between 75 to 200 feet away from polling places as stated by signs that every polling place has which say “No Electioneering,” i.e. no printed signs or distribution of pamphlets trying to influence voters as they enter the polls. There they can observe the levels of turnouts and talk to people and do exit polls.
But monitors will not, in some cases depending on local authorities, be allowed to enter into the voting areas.
Even where they are allowed entry, this may not be the place to see problems with the US election.
Without monitoring of pre-election conditions such as candidate registration, media access and cover, voter registration, etc. election monitoring on the day of elections is of little value except to record gross violations, such as the closure of a station altogether.
Even if monitors went right inside polling areas, they would be unlikely to see outright ballot-box stuffing and “carousel voting,” the type of blatant violations seen in Russia. US problems of voting are of a different nature, having to do with discouragement of registration, controversies over requirements to present ID to vote, location of polls, and so on.
Nevertheless, Russia is likely to go on invoking the lack of access of the United Russia-led delegation as proof of “rigging,” and ignore the US suggestion that Russians go on the OSCE delegation — where they would face the scrutiny of other delegations from democratic countries and the need to take part in a process to release findings.

While Kirby said he was “not aware” of rejection of foreign observers by individual states, The Independent reported denials in Oklahoma and Texas. The Oklahama secretary of state, Chris Benge, simply invoked US law:

While it would be our honor to offer the opportunity to observe our voting process, it is prohibited under state law to allow anyone except election officials and voters in or around the area where the voting takes place.”

And that is to prevent the “electioneering” prohibited as indicated on the signs. Texas invoked similar law:
Texas secretary of state Carlos Cascos wrote: “only persons authorized by law may be inside of a polling location during voting. All other persons are not authorised and would be committing a Class C misdemeanor crime by entering.”
The likelihood of getting these laws, which are not in effect uniformly throughout every state, changed when it is a Russian delegation that has demanded it would be highly unlikely.
Even Karpovich, who reported the denial, said “I don’t regard it as a serious loss” and said it only made the US look bad.
Asked about which candidate she personally supported, Karpovich said she didn’t like the “mechanisms that Hillary used to achieve victory” (translation by The Interpreter) and implied Clinton would start a war with Russia if elected — a common Kremlin propaganda theme these days:
“I don’t like the attitude of a person who claims to lead a country but is intent on war, on destruction on an aggressive dialogue with the strongest powers. I think such a leader cannot lead the country to prosperity. Trump is complicated in his own way, but I think he more corresponds to the expression that even a bad peace is better than a war.”
For Russian propagandists, any criticism of Russian aggression, whether the attacks on a humanitarian convoy and hospitals in Syria or the sponsoring of the war in the Donbass is tantamount to an aggressive “infowar” related to the critic’s own ostensible aggressive plans.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s ambassador-at-large Vladimir Churov also implied that the US may not comply with OSCE standards of monitoring, and that the federal government should do organizational work that monitoring organizations typically take on themselves. As Sputnik reported:

The host country should also organize the meetings with the representatives of the executive, legislative and judicial powers at the federal and local levels, the candidates, representatives of all political parties, civil society, mass media and any other person and groups chosen by the monitors,

It should also provide free travel opportunities to all the regions of the country prior, during and after the elections, without any imposed restrictions, as well as free access to all the constituencies, election commissions, votes counting centers and results processing centers.
As in the past, the White House response is likely to be that access is under the jurisdiction of each state. And as we noted, the US has urged Russians to join the already-existing OSCE delegation.
But as Sputnik reported:
“Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Saturday Russia chose to conduct the observations independently of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) because Moscow did not fully agree with some of the ODIHR criteria for drafting final reports of such observations.”

What would these criteria involve, such that Russia would object? For one, there would be a process of consensus which would not likely work to Russia’s advantage if other delegates did not want to exaggerate or distort findings.

For another, OSCE has rules about the timing of the release of monitoring reports and when members can speak to the press, and this may not work for the Russian delegation, either if the purpose is to influence the elections under the guise of monitoring them.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Putin Aide Ivanov Says Cold War ‘A Fact of Life’; US Denies Russian Election Monitors Access

The ruble is trading at 62.24 to the dollar and 67.77 to the euro. Brent crude is selling for $51.97 per barrel.

The following headlines were taken from 7:40 na perrone, Kommersant, RBC, Gazeta, CNN, NBC, TASS, Vedomosti and Omskinform. 

Trending Topic on Moscow Russian-Language Twitter – Rosgvadiya
Translation: Rosgvardiya has chosen an image-maker: author of publication on the ‘Xerox Box’, exposer of Kasyanov and Zurabov.

Translation: court in Moscow orders arrest of Rosgvardiya soldier who shot his own fellow officer. Moment of the murder caught on video.

What We’re Reading

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick