Russian State Media Highlights The Negative In Ukrainian Presidential Vote

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(Article text ©2019 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – MOSCOW, April 1, 2019 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/russian-state-media-highlights-the-negative-in-ukrainian-presidential-vote/29854841.html)

As Ukrainians voted for a new president, Russians keeping track of the election on state TV were bombarded with coverage of Ukraine’s failures as an independent state and reports of alleged electoral fraud.

“It’s unclear how one can accept the results of such an election,” presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said as the results came in, echoing a sentiment advanced on other state channels. “The election campaign itself was the dirtiest in Ukraine’s history, and the violations even before the vote were brazen.”

With Russian monitors and state media journalists banned from Ukraine, Kiselyov’s Vesti Nedeli and other programs on state television made do by splicing together coverage on Ukrainian channels and adding a Russian translation.

“Ukrainian police has recorded more than 2,000 falsifications,” flagship news channel Rossia-24 said. “Foreign monitors are severely criticizing how the elections were organized.”

By 7 p.m. local time, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry had recorded 1,768 complaints regarding the electoral process, it said in a Twitter post.

A Facebook Live post by Claude Béglé, a member of the Swiss parliament who monitored the election, was presented by Rossia-24 as evidence of irregularities during morning voting in the Odesa region town of Izmayil. The device used to count votes was broken, Béglé was shown saying.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry confirmed at 11 a.m. that the polling station had not yet opened, and reports on local media suggested it began operating in the afternoon.

The snippet used by Rossia-24 left out Béglé’s comment that the issue with the machine was “much more of a technical problem than a case of fraud.”

“The vote was disorderly,” Russia’s government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta concluded, citing “signs of mass fraud and falsifications.” “The dirtiest and most dishonest in Ukraine’s history, according to every monitor and every participant in the process.”

That take stood in contrast to comments made on April 1 by the special coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

“The election day was assessed positively overall and paves the way to the second round,” the coordinator, Finnish lawmaker Illka Kanerva, said at a Kyiv news conference. “Fundamental freedoms were generally respected and candidates could campaign freely,” he said, while acknowledging that “numerous and credible indications of misuse of state resources and vote buying undermined the credibility of the process.”

Assessments by other monitoring groups — which including the OSCE’s contingent used some 2,300 official observers from 17 countries according to the Central Election Commission (CEC) — had not yet been released.

Coverage by Dozhd TV, an independent channel that reports critically of the Kremlin, was picked up by Russian state news wires after one of its reporters was threatened and attacked by a Ukrainian man he tried to interview outside the CEC building in Kyiv.

Despite the active interest in the vote from TV channels, Russian analysts suggested that Moscow did not have major expectations whatever the outcome.

“The trend in relations between Russia and Ukraine has already been set, and it’s unlikely anything fundamental will change regardless of who wins,” Yevgeny Minchenko, an expert on Ukraine at the International Institute for Political Expertise, told the newspaper Vedomosti.

Aleksei Makarkin, deputy head of Moscow’s Center for Political Technologies, suggested that a victory by comedian Vladimir Zelenskyy, the expected winner of the vote’s first round, would be preferable to Moscow. Zelenskyy would be a “weak president,” Makarkin told Vedomosti, with little experience in politics and no team behind him.

Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, who has consistently played on the threat from Russia to rally his supporters, was not a popular choice in Moscow.

“The nation is against Poroshenko — that’s the essence of the second round,” Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at Russia’s Federation Council, tweeted as it emerged that the election would go to a run-off later this month. “As a result Poroshenko should lose badly. That will show the country’s attitude toward his agenda.”

Some close to Russian power appeared to be sitting this one out, with the decisive second round yet to come. On election day, RT editor Margarita Simonyan appeared to sum up the mood in Moscow in a Twitter post:

“Since it’s totally unimportant who wins in Ukraine, I’m browsing some old photos,” she wrote in a tweet, accompanied by a photo of herself on a beach at the age of 21.

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