Autocrats using ‘toxic election’ to pour scorn on democracy


soft-power-resourcesRussia, China and Iran are among several authoritarian regimes seeking to use the U.S. election as an opportunity to project soft power, to undermine the attractiveness of liberal democracy, and to hail their own systems as being superior, The Financial Times reports:

In Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambayev cited claims of voter fraud to argue that the US system was no better than his country’s. He also called into question the moral authority of US observers to monitor elections overseas.

“How are US NGOs [non-governmental agencies] going to teach us how to hold elections after this?” he said.

In Russia, the message is clear, says Vladimir Frolov, a foreign policy analyst and columnist with The Moscow Times.

“The intent is to discredit the system,” he told VOA. “So-called American democracy stinks. It’s a circus and nothing to envy.”

russia ostrovskyPutin is simply reprising what the Soviets called “active measures,” says The Economist’s Arkady Ostrovsky, author of The Invention of Russia.

“The idea is you undermine the integrity, the confidence, of your adversary. So I don’t think there is anything particularly new in it,” he tells Peter Pomerantsev in The Atlantic:

We had wrongly assumed that Russia’s confrontation with the West was about ideology. But it has always been about the threat that a Western system of governance, based on the rule of law and human values, posed to the Soviet and current Russian system, where the rule of law is subjected to the powers of the state. In the 1990s when Russia embraced democracy, the West ceased to be a threat. After the reactionary restoration of the 2000s, the West once again poses a threat.

jewett-ndiAccording to some accounts, the U.S. elections are fair game for “meddling” since democracy assistance organizations from around the world have engaged in elections in other countries, Russia among them, notes Laura Jewett (left), Eurasia regional director for the National Democratic Institute.

But to compare democracy assistance with cyber-hacking and disinformation is to commit a dangerous false equivalency, she writes:

When democracy assistance is employed in other countries, the objectives are to promote integrity and to help ensure that the process supports citizens’ fundamental right to express their political will freely. That means responding to requests from governments, parliaments, political parties, civic groups, and election administrators to help promote transparency, participation and accountability in the elections – first and foremost so that basic human rights are defended, but also so that everyone involved can have confidence in the outcome.

The purpose of these efforts is to help give voice to people who would otherwise be excluded from the process due to a tilted playing field that virtually guarantees the incumbent regime will win, often with grossly inflated turnout figures and victory tallies above 90 percent. The providers of this assistance are governments, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental groups. Democratic leaders welcome this kind of international support because they understand that credible elections are a pillar of their countries’ stability and sovereignty. RTWT

CyberDissidents%20photo1Russian state-sponsored hackers are likely to spend polling day trying to spread disinformation to undermine U.S. and global public confidence in the election result, rather than in pointless efforts to hack the results themselves, according to new cyber intelligence analysis.

“Russia can most likely achieve a more reliable outcome with fewer resources not by attacking the election infrastructure directly, but rather by organizing a disinformation campaign attacking confidence in the election itself,” wrote Ian Gray, an analyst at dark web intelligence specialists Flashpoint.

As Russian intervention in other countries’ elections has shown, attempts to manipulate the outcome by tampering with internet and social media platforms could be hugely disruptive, especially in real time when the information matters the most, NBC News reports.

russia-europe-guardian“A coordinated disinformation campaign would happen quickly through use of trolls and digital [troll] farms all over the world,” said Moira Whelan, a former senior strategic communications official at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. “With some states having just hours to cast their votes, any effort that may keep someone from a polling place or change their mind can have an impact.”

But Konstantin von Eggart, a long time analyst and host of the independent TV Rain channel’s coverage of the U.S. elections, says he finds the Kremlin’s approach “bizarre,” VOA adds.

“I think Russia’s policy is a big blunder,” says von Eggart. “Even in the Soviet days the Politburo wasn’t influencing in the U.S. elections because they knew they’d have to work with whoever was the next American president.

russians-treat-the-us-625Not since the Cold War Russia has Russia had so much attention in the US elections, notes Anton Barbashin, a managing editor at Intersection. Indeed, Russia’s “love” for the US is unprecedented, he writes for Open Democracy:

Over the past few years, anti-Americanism has become an integral part of any debate on foreign and domestic policy in Russia. You could even say that it’s one of the cornerstones of the new quasi-religious conservatism which the Kremlin has constructed since Putin returned for his third presidential term.

But, there is one nasty detail that could significantly damage the almost perfect anti-American propaganda today, Barbashin adds:

As long as the United States is used to explain the big picture and foreign affairs (even the decline of oil prices and sanctions), Russia’s propaganda machine is in the safe zone. Sixty percent of Russians believe foreign policy coverage on TV to be the most objective. But what we are noticing now is the growing temptation by various state officials to blame their failures on the US. 

Take the case of Samara governor Nikolai Merkushkin, who, when answering the questions about a months-long delay of wages, blamed the US Ambassador to Russia for “heating up” discontent among workers at the Avtovazagregat car plant. This absurdity caused a nationwide reaction, prompting heavy criticism in the media and puzzlement among the majority of social media users. So did the cases of Duma deputy Vadim Soloviev, who blamed the USA for flu epidemics in Russia, or Evgeniy Fedorov, who claimed that the US State Department is responsible for cancellation of reduced fares on transports for Moscow region.

“In addition to the mockery of idea that ‘it is all America’s fault’ that is  already alive and well on Russian social media and popular Youtube bloggers, some professional groups who protest the economic policies of the state, such as Russia’s truck drivers, reference the absurdity of the idea of pinning all the domestic problems on the USA,” he concludes.


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