Faced with “false fraud” in legislative elections, Russia invents a false police operation

THEThe Russian authorities have an explanation for the appearance of dozens of online videos showing fraud in the legislative elections from September 17 to 19: a sinister manipulation orchestrated in a studio set up for the occasion in Moscow. This scenario was presented on Saturday September 18, in the very solemn premises of the Central Election Commission.

That day, a video apparently shot by the police was released there as an exceptional document. We see the arrival of agents in an apartment in the capital. There, a group of frightened individuals on a couch, recording equipment and, in a corner, a ballot box and ballots. The whole must be used to turn, therefore, of “False frauds” to then be broadcast on the Internet. Photos of Alexeï Navalny are also found in the “safe house”.

During the presentation to the Central Election Commission, September 18, 2021.

“This is how these fakes are made”, comments the President of the Electoral Commission, Ella Pamfilova, known for having considered that the Russian elections were “The most democratic in the world”. His deputy confirms and evokes an operation of “Destabilization”. Public television quickly took over. On Rossia-24, we learn that the people arrested have confessed. One of them would have been paid 10,000 rubles (115 euros), we found in his phone the contact of a deputy of Alexey Navalny.

Professional extras

The story could have ended there. But alerted by the unnatural nature of the scene, the Russian-speaking editorial staff of the BBC pushed the research. By passing their faces through a simple image recognition software available online, she found, on social networks, two of the participants of the conspiracy. Their profiles show that both are… professional extras. Service offers, shooting photos, it’s all there. Other photos show them at pro-government political rallies – the two aspects are not mutually exclusive since these rallies often involve people paid or brought in by their company.

At the BBC, Maria (whose last name is not disclosed) assures that she was called precisely for work as an extra. Before the police arrived, she was reportedly told that she was participating in a video promoting the ballot and that she would have to read a text on voting in the context of a pandemic.

Also interviewed by the BBC, two members of the Election Commission were unable to say how they received the video showing the police intervention. Mme Panfilova maintained on Sunday that the document was genuine but details could not be released “For the purposes of the investigation”. Moscow police do not mention the raid in their activity reports.

The videos – very real – showing fraud in the polling stations have become a classic of the Russian elections and a recurring source of embarrassment for the government. They appeared after 2012, when the government decided to calm a post-election dispute by installing webcams in the polling stations, accessible to all citizens. A genre was born, that of videos of acrobatic ballot stuffing, in which those responsible for fraud, often members of electoral commissions, act in the most diverse positions, sometimes by trying to hide, sometimes with their faces uncovered in front of the camera.

For the September ballot, a change was announced in early August, in the middle of summer: the cameras would now be accessible only to campaign teams, and on ad hoc request. After making the budgetary argument, the authorities explained that “The West” could use this system to “Create and disseminate false frauds thanks to artificial intelligence”.

False electoral formation

With this system, the number of eyes available has certainly decreased, but without preventing the appearance of fraud videos, relayed by observers from several political parties. The most shared of this 2021 legislative election is that, coming from the Siberian city of Kemerovo, of a compulsive voter, hidden behind a flag.

Another maneuver had already been undertaken before the vote to disqualify in advance any accusations of falsification. Videos that appeared on a Telegram channel linked to the Kremlin, and then broadcast more widely thanks to RT journalists, showed behind the scenes of a so-called voter education mission. The trainer explained to the participants, looking very young and shown from behind, that “Since we will not be able to show a lot of real frauds (…), our goal is to make this election illegitimate ”. The method: provoke scandals by being kicked out of the polling stations, detailed procedure in “A booklet waiting for you at the exit”.

On the board, behind the trainer, you could see the logo of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission. However, she did not participate in the observation of this year’s Russian election, after Moscow’s attempt to limit its delegation to sixty people. The trainer was described as a member of the electoral supervision organization Golos, active since 2000 and declared a “foreign agent” in August. Both the name and the face of this “trainer” were completely unknown.

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