Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 07.12.2018
The Government of Canada announced on December 6th that it will contribute up to $24 million (around 18 million USD) to support elections and democracy in Ukraine. In 2019, Ukraine will be holding presidential and parliamentary elections. These will be the second round of elections held after the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in Crimea in February 2014 and in Donbas in April 2014.
Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted: “Canada is a steadfast partner of Ukraine. We will support Ukraine by committing a significant number of Canadian observers to support a Canadian bilateral observation mission and an OSCE election observation mission.”
Canada will help counter Russian disinformation, ensure free and fair elections, and support election observation missions.
The first big election observation mission from Canada to Ukraine happened in 2004, during the Orange Revolution. Almost 600 Canadians flew to Ukraine to participate in a bilateral mission and to contribute to the OSCE one. Canada’s prominent contribution had some effect in ensuring that the repeat second-round presidential election held on 26 December 2004 was free and fair. Canada contributed substantial numbers of observers to Ukrainian elections in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections were held after the Revolution of Dignity and while the Russian Federation was in the first year of its war against Ukraine. Despite shortcomings – particularly with the media – both the Canadian bilateral missions and the OSCE missions assessed that the 2014 elections in Ukraine were free and fair. This was a remarkable achievement for a country that is under attack by its neighbour, Muscovy.
The Russian Federation has clearly signalled its intention to interfere in Ukrainian elections in 2019. Democracy as the genuine will of the Ukrainian people is a significant threat to Putin’s power in the Russian Federation, because Russians may come to realize they live in a slave-nation by contrast. Putin refuses to talk to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about the Ukrainian Navy sailors who are POWs after the Russian Federation committed an act of war in the Kerch Strait and in international waters of the Black Sea on November 25. Putin refuses to allow “Normandy format” talks to proceed with regard to the Minsk Agreements. The Kremlin regime is expanding its war against Ukraine and stalling all diplomacy because it believes it can manipulate a pro-Russian president and a pro-Russian legislature into power in Kyiv.
Putin is profoundly ignorant about the Ukrainian people and foolishly believes his own propaganda. After the Revolution of Dignity and after the Russian Federation invaded, partially occupied, and terrorized Ukraine, there is no chance of a pro-Russian government in Kyiv. Nevertheless, all the instruments of Russian state propaganda and information warfare will be brought to bear in an attempt to falsify the Ukrainian elections. The Russians will be applying lessons learned from their successful falsification of the United States presidential election in 2016.
What has to be different about Canada’s support for elections and democracy in Ukraine in 2019 has to be a strong effort to fight Russian cyber war. No other country faces as malicious an assault by Russian trolls, bots, information warriors, Useful Idiots, Fifth Columnists, and agents of agitation propaganda as does Ukraine.
What is missing from Canada’s plan to support elections and democracy in Ukraine is an emphasis on the participation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). These are the people that are most at risk of disenfranchisement. Electoral law in Ukraine does not sufficiently protect the rights of Ukrainian citizens who are refugees in their own country because of the Russian Federation’s invasion and occupation of Crimea and part of Donbas. Canada must ensure that Ukrainian citizens who are IDPs are not treated as second-class. IDPs must not be denied the right to vote or run for office because of their irregular residence. If the Ukrainian government is not capable of liberating Ukrainian territory of Crimea and Donbas in time for the elections then it must guarantee in law the right of IDPs to vote and to run for office wherever they happen to live. Canada must stress that without the full and equal participation of IDPs, a vote in Ukraine cannot be considered free and fair.
A massive Canadian bilateral election observation will do more to support elections and democracy in Ukraine than the OSCE can possibly do. Since the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine and the OSCE Special Observation Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM) began, the OSCE has been discredited in the eyes of the Ukrainian people. The Russian Federation violated the Helsinki Final Act but has not been kicked out of the OSCE. But the worst blow to the reputation of the OSCE is that Russian citizens are allowed as members of OSCE SMM teams – the invaders are observing their own invasion. The Canadian bilateral mission will not have the taint that the OSCE one will have.
After the Battle of the Kerch Strait, Ukraine faces escalating Russian aggression and interference. There may be a military offensive soon, for which Ukraine is preparing but other Western democracies are not. That Ukraine is a thriving democracy when it is the front-line state to the Russian Federation’s invasion of Europe is nothing short of heroic. Canada is right to be committing a lot of money and many Canadian experts to the cause of supporting elections and democracy in Ukraine.