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Putin’s foes accuse Google and Apple of caving to Kremlin pressure By Reuters


© Reuters. A local election committee checks ballots at the polling station before a three day parliamentary vote in Moscow (Russia) September 16th, 2021. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov


By Alexander Marrow and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian opposition activists accused Alphabet (NASDAQ:)’s Google and Apple (NASDAQ:) of caving to Kremlin pressure on Friday after the U.S. tech giants removed an anti-government tactical voting app from their stores on the first day of a parliamentary election.

In an attempt to defeat the United Russia party, which backs President Vladimir Putin, allies created this app.

In the lead-up to the election, members of the upper chamber of parliament met with representatives from Apple and Google to request that the app be removed. Otherwise they could face criminal and financial penalties.

John Sullivan was the U.S. Ambassador to Russia. He was called before the vote to address complaints about the behavior of the companies as a result of U.S. interference in Russia’s internal affairs.

In June, Navalny’s political group was declared an extremist by a court. This decision came in support of complaints made by Moscow’s prosecutor about its activists trying to undermine Russia. The ruling, which was condemned at that time by the West as a violation of freedom, was also imposed.

Google pulled the app from its store after it was informed that local employees could face prison time. One source familiar with this situation spoke on condition of anonymity.

Apple and Google declined to comment immediately.

Russia for many years has sought control over the segment of internet where anti-Kremlin activists have followings, and where critical media operate.

Leonid Volkov was an alliant of Navalny and accused Google of being complicit in a Kremlin-sponsored blackmail campaign.

Volkov said that “this shameful day” on Telegram. He is not based in Russia.

Ivan Zhdanov (another Navalny ally, who is overseas) called the actions of the companies “a shameful act political censorship.”

Dmitry Peskov (Kremlin spokesmen) said Moscow was happy with the action and that U.S. corporations had acted according to the “spirit of Russian law”

Independently verified by Reuters, the Russian version of the app is not available on Apple’s AppStore or Google Play. The app did not work in previous versions that were downloaded.

It isn’t an attack on the Navalny group’s tactful voting campaign. Two days ago, his allies posted detailed online lists of what they wanted people to do in order to get their vote.

Virtual private networks are also used by activists to circumvent restrictions. They were still able download and use this app.

Roskomnadzor the Russian state communication regulator demanded Apple and Google delete the app. They also threatened to impose fines for not complying.


The election, which runs until Sunday evening, is a test of Putin’s grip on power during a malaise over faltering living standards and when ties with the West are bad.

United Russia is likely to win the election despite facing a low rating and the Kremlin’s most severe crackdown in recent years.

This election marks the widespread introduction of electronic voting in Russia. The government ministry stated that the system was attacked by foreign IP addresses, including those from Germany, Ukraine and the United States.

Voting is seen as an exercise in futility for the 2020 presidential election. The supermajority of United Russia in the 450-seat State Duma is at stake. This was what helped Putin last year to pass constitutional reforms which allow him to run again for office and possibly stay in power until 2036.

Putin is turning 69 this month. Putin hasn’t yet said if he would seek reelection. Since 1999, he has been president and prime minister.

In March, Navalny (45) was sentenced to prison in an unrelated case. He had been suffering from poisoning by a Soviet-style nerve agents and called it trump up.

Because of Navalny’s connections, his associates were prohibited from running for office.

The Kremlin claims that there has been no political-motivated crackdown, and individuals will be prosecuted for violating the law.