The application, created by the allies of the imprisoned leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, disappeared from Apple and Google stores on Friday, because polling stations for three-day voting in the parliamentary elections opened all over Russia.
MOSCOW – The application created by the allies of the imprisoned leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, disappeared from Apple and Google stores on Friday, while polling stations for three-day voting in the parliament were opening all over Russia. elections.
It comes as the Russian authorities seek to curb the use of smart voting, a project devised by Navalny to promote a candidate who is most likely to defeat those supported by the Kremlin. This weekend’s election is seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to consolidate his power ahead of the 2024 presidential election, for which parliamentary control is crucial.
Apple and Google have been under pressure in recent weeks, so Russian officials have urged them to remove an app containing Smart Voting, saying failure to do so would be interpreted as meddling in the election and threatening them with fines.
Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on US Ambassador John Sullivan because of the situation.
On Thursday, representatives of Apple and Google were invited to a meeting in the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council. The commission said in a statement after the meeting that Apple had agreed to co-operate with Russian authorities.
Apple and Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Google was forced to remove the app because it faced legal requirements from regulators and threats of prosecution in Russia, says a person who has direct knowledge of the matter and who also said Russian police officers visited Google offices in Moscow on Monday to execute a court order. to block the application. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the question.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the presidential administration “definitely, of course” welcomes the companies’ decision to remove the application because it is in accordance with Russian laws. Peskov said that the application is “illegal” in Russia.
In recent months, authorities have carried out comprehensive actions against Navalny’s allies and supporters in an effort to suppress smart voting.
After recovering from nerve agent poisoning last year, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating parole following a previous conviction. He says the poisoning and condemnation were politically motivated – the Kremlin denies the allegations.
His allies have been charged with criminal charges, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation, as well as a network of regional offices, have been outlawed as extremist organizations. This exposed the persecution of hundreds of people associated with the groups. Many of his top associates have left the country. About 50 websites run by his team were blocked and dozens of regional offices closed.
Authorities have also launched a blockade of the smart voting website, but some internet users can still access it. Navalny’s team also created a smart bot chat bot in the Telegram messaging app and released a list of candidates who support smart voting in Google Docs and YouTube.
Navalny’s close ally Ivan Zhdanov posted on Twitter on Friday a screenshot of what looks like an e-mail from Apple, explaining why the app should be removed from the store. The screenshot shows the mark of extremism for the Anti-Corruption Foundation and allegations of interference in the elections. “Google, Apple are making a big mistake,” Zhdanov wrote.
Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s best strategist, wrote on Facebook that the companies were “leaning towards blackmail from the Kremlin.” He noted that this move does not affect users who have already downloaded the app and that it should work properly.
On Friday, Peskov called Smart Voting “another attempt at provocations that are harmful to voters.”
As voting began in Russia on Friday morning, long queues and a large crowd formed at some polling stations in Moscow and other cities. Russian media attributed them to state institutions and companies that forced their employees to vote.
Peskov dismissed the allegations and suggested that those standing in line at polling stations came voluntarily because they had to work weekends or wanted to be “released” on Saturday and Sunday.
Dr. Anna Trushina, a radiologist at a Moscow hospital, told the AP that she came to the polling station in the center of Moscow “to be honest, because we were forced (to come and vote) by my work.” Honestly. “
She added: “I also want to know who is leading us.”
Kelvin Chan in London and Vladimir Kondrashov in Moscow contributed to the reporting.