An Estonian digital election expert was used to praise the Kremlin’s e-elections


Last weekend, September 17-19. 2021, the State Duma elections took place in Russia, with the United Russia party winning. According to the independent press and observers, this result was achieved by silencing the opposition and the media, through manipulation, tricks and counterfeiting. The elections were neither free nor democratic.

In addition to the usual passing of voting ballots into election boxes, e-voting also took place, in six regions, in the Nizhny Novgorod, Kursk, Murmansk, Yaroslavl and Rostov regions, and in the Crimea in Sevastopol, the state-owned company Rostelekom conducted e-elections. In Moscow, digital elections were held by the city’s information technology department in cooperation with the Kremlin-affiliated company Kaspersky Lab. President Vladimir Putin also voted in the e-vote; the video published on his e-voting raised suspicions that it was recorded earlier than claimed.

There is also reason to suspect wide manipulation in Russia’s e-elections. For example, there are reports that in the case of civil servants and municipal officials, the e-voting was carried out under the watchful eye of superiors on work computers. Rumors are circulating of e-mailed instructions on voting for United Russia candidates. The German foreign policy association DGAP calls Russia’s e-elections as non-transparent: system administrators linked to the state apparatus have the opportunity to monitor who was voted for and to influence the results.

Praise from an Estonian expert
However, on September 21, Russian media news stated that Western international experts highly value Russia’s e-elections. The stories are based on a webinar organized by the Moscow Innovation Laboratory. Florian Marcus, who is associated with Estonian e-elections, is quoted as one of the experts in the articles. “Unlike in Estonia, registration to vote in Moscow took more than a day, a month and a half. Therefore, it was easier and accessible to everyone, ”the articles mediate the words of Marcus. “Hackers have never attacked internet voting in Estonia. The Russian system is constantly under attack, so Moscow’s defense system is generally more credible. ”

Marcus is mentioned in the stories as the developer of the world’s first e-voting system, which is why he was given the honour of being the first to speak at the webinar. One rarely finds such a respectful attitude towards a person with an Estonian background in the Russian media.

“Western / international / Estonian experts evaluate / support / consider secure” – dozens of stories with similar titles have been circulated in the Russian-language media space, both by national propaganda channels and local portals, especially in Moscow. You can find the articles by referring to the phrases “Флориану + Маркус + ДЭГ” (short for дистанционное электронное голосование, i.e. electronic voting at a distance: this is called e-voting in Russia).

Why did an Estonian expert praise the Kremlin’s e-elections?
On the other hand, did he actually praise the e-elections? Based on the articles, it is not possible to unambiguously understand whether Marcus actually evaluates the Kremlin’s e-elections or whether it is an arbitrary interpretation of his words and putting them in a suitable context through a striking title. What was said at the Marcus webinar cannot be verified, no link to the text is provided. In addition, the webinar organizer will not share a video or summary of the event.
It is hard to believe that Marcus, a graduate of the Johan Skytte Institute for Political Studies at the University of Tartu, knowingly gave his expertise to the service of propagandists of the Kremlin.

However, it is clear that the Kremlin is very interested in showing its e-elections in a favorable light – there is a possibility that it will be introduced nationwide in the 2024 presidential elections. Consequently, Kremlin officials, and the media, have praised the digital vote as well as support is also sought from Western experts.

Independent commentators, on the other hand, want the Kremlin to cease conducting e-elections. It is feared that e-voting will give the Kremlin full control of the process and may change the results even more freely in the direction it wants.

How can you avoid becoming mouthpieces for Kremlin propagandists?

Throughout its history, Propastop has written about numerous cases in which someone’s words have been distorted in the Kremlin’s propaganda media. The surest way to avoid this situation is to stop communicating with the propaganda media.

We have also drawn up a guide that should be read by anyone who deals with the Russian authorities or the media.

Also, read about the caricature scandal that erupted in the Estonian media after the Russian e-vote.

Images: screenshots of the articles referenced in the post.