Russian legislators are in the US to monitor the midterm elections

Strange bedfellows.
Strange bedfellows.
Image: Reuters/Yuri Maltsev
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Two parliamentarians from the Russian State Duma are in the United States as part of an international delegation to monitor the midterm elections on Tuesday, November 6, according to Russian news agency TASS.

The legislators, Artyom Turov of president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, and Alexei Korniyenko of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, have been “dispatched to monitor the congressional midterm elections as part of a mission of the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Parliamentary Assembly (OSCEPA),” TASS reported.

The OSCEPA is a component of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. This marks the seventh time the group has monitored US elections since 2004.

“We will be working in Washington and the bordering state of Maryland,” Korniyenko told TASS.

The Russians will be present in US voting places amid continued concern about the possibility of Russian hacking that could interfere with the US vote, especially given Russian efforts to influence the outcomes of the 2016 US election and votes in other countries since. The OSCEPA monitoring comes on the heels of October missions to monitor elections in the former Soviet satellite republic of Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Korniyenko, 42, was born in Uzbekistan and graduated from the Ulyanovsk State Agricultural Academy in 1999 with a degree in agricultural science. He has been mentioned by name in public statements by Russian president Vladimir Putin at least once. In 2009, Korniyenko sued the OSCE for $40 trillion in response to a resolution that equated Nazism and Stalinism. In 2014, he asked Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev to bring back Soviet-style collective farms. Korniyenko has also co-authored bills that would permit 10% of Russian senators to be appointed by the president and would criminalize public calls for separatism.

Turov, 33, has been a vocal supporter of the far-right Democratic Party of Serbia, and has been involved in overseeing United Russia’s so-called “Young Guard” and running the Guard’s “educational political forums” each summer for thousands of attendees. Turov has also called the OSCE “a political farce.” His father, Viktor Turov, was a famous director known for such films as Through the Cemetery, War Under the Roofs, and Sons go Into Battle.

Above: Artyom Turov (left) with Andrey Turchak, a senator and United Russia party member who was accused by independent journalist Oleg Kashin of ordering an attack on him in retaliation for writing critical articles. Turchak’s father is reportedly one of Vladimir Putin’s former judo sparring partners.

Turov and Korniyenko will be part of a group of roughly 75 official OSCEPA observers deployed nationwide next week. The head of the OSCEPA’s observer mission said they will be focusing on issues including voter ID and gerrymandering.

“In one sense, the mission is routine for us–having observed elections in the U.S. a half-dozen times since 2004–but we are also keenly aware that this election is taking place in a context of deep polarization, concerns over election security, and an ongoing investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential contest,” OSCEPA mission heads George Tsereteli and Isabel Santos wrote in an op-ed published by The Hill.

The observers will each visit around 10 polling stations on election day. They will be looking at:

  • whether ballot boxes are empty and properly sealed
  • whether all ballots are accounted for
  • how voters are processed
  • the accuracy of voter registries
  • whether voters are able to vote in secret and free from intimidation

“Our election observation work is an essential component of the OSCE’s overall efforts to uphold democratic standards, enhance transatlantic cooperation and promote security and stability across North America, Europe and Central Asia,” OSCEPA spokesman Nat Parry told Quartz. “Whether it’s a country with a long history of democratic traditions or a developing democracy, we all benefit from the increased transparency and scrutiny. This helps to not only identify areas for improvement in democratic processes but also helps build confidence within and between countries.”

Ten Russians in total will be among the total 139 OSCE observers here for the midterms; Turov and Korniyenko are the lone MPs in the group. Russia declined to participate in the OSCE’s mission to observe the 2016 US presidential elections, saying, “It is obvious that in this case our American colleagues are lacking transparency for this kind of work.”

In that contest, OSCE monitors found the campaign had “demonstrated commitment to fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association.” However, it was nevertheless “characterized by harsh personal attacks, as well as intolerant rhetoric, particularly by one candidate.”

OSCE monitors were also on hand for the 2014 midterms, which were “active and competitive, but often with negative advertising and mutual accusations lowering the quality of debate and turning voters off,” said Isabel Santos at the time. And with “certain individuals and groups now spending millions on elections–amounts wildly beyond the capacity of average citizens–there is increasing inequality in the process.”

Preliminary findings by the OSCE observers will be presented at a press conference on Wednesday.

This story was updated on Nov. 5 with a comment from OSCEPA spokesman Nat Parry.