Ukraine's refusal to be part of the CIS election monitoring team in Kyrgyzstan's late February and mid-March parliamentary elections came at a very fortunate time for Yushchenko's government.
Soon after the CIS monitors declared the Kyrgyz vote was "free and transparent," large-scale and often violent demonstrations broke out throughout the country protesting what the opposition called a rigged parliamentary election. These protests culminated on 24 March when Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev fled the country and a new government was formed.
Ukraine's refusal to take part in a seemingly endless charade of impartial election monitoring by the CIS Secretariat in Minsk, dealt a serious blow to an organization and a practice that has infuriated human-rights groups for many years.
This practice, seen by some as nothing more then a KGB disinformation operation left over from Soviet times, consists of groups of trusted CIS employees from the secretariat in Minsk who roam the CIS to observe elections and invariably announce that they were transparent, fair, and democratic -- providing that the more pro-Kremlin candidate wins.
The CIS Secretariat has been headed since 14 June 2004 by former Russian Interior Minister and National Security Council head Vladimir Rushailo.
The CIS Election Monitoring Organization was formed as a by-product of the Convention on the Standards of Democratic Elections, Electoral Rights, and Freedoms in the Member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was adopted at a CIS heads of states meeting in October 2002.
In reality it had less to do with "democratic elections and electoral rights" and everything to do with supporting pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, Belarus, Central Asian countries, and other CIS member countries.
During the presidential elections held in Chechnya in 2003, international observers sent by the CIS Secretariat came to the following conclusion:
"We, the international observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, hold that the referendum in the Chechen Republic on the Draft Constitution of the Chechen Republic...has been conducted by the election commissions in accordance with the national legislation and recognize it as democratic and legitimate," according to a statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mid.ru) on 23 March 2003.
However, Diego de Ojeda, spokesman for EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, was quoted by RFE/RL on 6 October 2003 as saying: "It is clear that the situation on the ground is extremely complex and difficult, and it casts doubt [on] the possibility of conducting free and fair elections according to international standards." The OSCE does not monitor regional country elections and thus did not assess the Chechen elections.
From Chechnya, the CIS monitors went to other Russian regions to monitor the 2004 Russian presidential election; it found the election at every turn to be in order.
But once again the OSCE did not concur with the CIS monitors' assessment: "The election process failed to meet important commitments concerning treatment of candidates by the state-controlled media on a nondiscriminatory basis, equal opportunities for all candidates, and secrecy of the ballot" (http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2004/06/3033_en.pdf).
After applauding the Russian vote, which was won by Vladimir Putin, the CIS monitors journeyed back to Belarus for the October 2004 parliamentary elections. As might have been expected, the CIS monitors found the conduct of the elections to be transparent, and legitimate. The OSCE, once again, strongly disagreed with that view of events.
Russian frustration with the OSCE came to a head after the Belarusian elections and the CIS observers then became the targets of harsh criticism in an official statement issued by CIS headquarters in Minsk.
"CIS observers deem it necessary to note that the republican referendum was conducted on the background of an unprecedented campaign of pressure from outside. Unjustly harsh statements, biased comments, [and] negative assessments were made by some officials and structures of a number of European organizations and the United States with regard to the announced referendum in Belarus" (http://www.cis.minsk.by/english/zajv_bel_engl_18_10_2004.htm).
The Showdown In Ukraine
During the Ukrainian presidential elections in November and December of 2004, the stakes for Moscow were much greater, with Putin himself playing a high-profile role in supporting the election of the pro-Kremlin candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.
While the OSCE observers found massive fraud in the second round of the Ukrainian vote, the CIS observers applauded its transparency and fairness and declared that Yanukovych had won. This led to a public dispute and helped energize the participants in the Orange Revolution.
The showdown came during the rerun of the second round. The OSCE and other observers said the vote was free of massive irregularities while the CIS monitors differed, saying the vote should be considered illegitimate.
In a bitter exchange, a spokesman for the Ukrainian government criticized the CIS statement. "We believe such comments go beyond the framework of [the] normal functions of the observers," Foreign Ministry spokesman Markian Lubkivsky told journalists on 28 December.
"The ministry so far cannot say if the reason behind the statement by the CIS mission was political bias, lack of professionalism, or some other thing," Lubkivsky added.
The OSCE observer mission head, Bruce George, said this on 22 November about claims that the elections were tainted. "If you make an allegation about misconduct, then tell us where it took place, how it took place, and who made that criminal act," he said. "If you cannot do that, withdraw the allegation." George also noted that the CIS observers saw democracy differently than the West. "They haven't ever seen a good election and wouldn't know one if it hit them in the face."
Rushailo, however, hinted that the eventual victory by Victor Yushchenko was somehow due to a U.S. plot to sever Ukraine from Russian influence, a position taken by Russian political advisers who worked for the Yanukovych campaign.
On 13 January, RIA-Novosti quoted Rushailo saying at a Moscow news conference, "The techniques aimed at toppling national authorities are fit to be on the list of challenges and threats of the 21st century."
Is The CIS-EMO An NGO?
In December 2003, a group calling itself the CIS Elections Monitoring Organization (CIS-EMO) was registered in Nizhnii Novgorod, Russia, as a nongovernmental organization; a spokesman for the group said it has no ties to the official CIS monitors.
The reasons for the founding of this group are unclear. One possible explanation is that after so many discrepancies between CIS monitors' conclusions and those arrived at by OSCE election observers, a "neutral" NGO was needed to lend legitimacy to the official CIS reports and to thereby reinforce Russian policy goals.
A certain amount of confusion resulted from the fact that this NGO had a very similar name to the official CIS monitors, and that its reports were almost carbon copies of those filed by the official CIS monitors.
The CIS-EMO played a minor role as an observer in the Ukrainian elections in 2004. CIS-EMO leader Aleksei Kochetkov complained that he had been beaten by people wearing orange armbands, a complaint that was dismissed as a ploy by many people.
In the February Moldovan parliamentary elections, a trainload of CIS-EMO observers were not allowed into the country -- being turned back at the Ukrainian-Moldovan border. Earlier, Moldova had also rejected the presence of official CIS monitors.
Are CIS Monitors Doomed To Extinction?
While it is premature to declare the official CIS election monitor group as an idea that has outlived its usefulness, its ability to work as a tool of Russian policy has eroded and it is argued by many that the organization does more harm than good for the Kremlin, with the blatant subservience of CIS monitors to Kremlin foreign policy has only served to discredit what many view as the vague notion of the CIS: a commonwealth formed to manage the peaceful divorce between the republics of the former USSR -- as Russian President Vladimir Putin recently described it -- that has been unable to define a practical role since the Soviet breakup.