Moscow | The movement of the imprisoned opponent Alexeï Navalny accused Google and Apple on Friday of having given in to the Kremlin by removing the mobile application allowing to organize the vote against the party of President Vladimir Putin, on the first day of legislative elections in Russia.
This announcement comes after months of repression which have de facto dismissed the detractors of the Russian president from these elections.
“Today at 8 a.m. Russian time (5 a.m. GMT), Google and Apple removed our Navalny app from their app stores. That is to say, they gave in to the Kremlin’s blackmail, ”Leonid Volkov, an exiled opposition leader in exile, announced on his Telegram channel.
Since almost no anti-Kremlin candidate has been allowed to stand for the legislative elections which take place from September 17 to 19, Navalny’s supporters have set up a so-called “smart vote” strategy intended to support the candidate – very often a communist – the best placed to put in difficulty that of the party in power, United Russia.
Its app let users know which competitor to vote for in their constituency. In the past, this approach had met with some success, especially in Moscow in 2019.
Friday morning, the latter no longer appeared in the “stores” of Google and Apple in Russia, AFP journalists noted. The American giants did not react immediately.
Moscow has been increasing for weeks the admonitions of Internet giants refusing to remove content deemed illegal, in particular the publications of the Navalny movement banned for “extremism” since June.
Representatives of Apple and Google were also summoned Thursday before a committee of the upper house of Parliament, the Federation Council. Russian officials had spoken of criminal proceedings against platforms refusing to comply with Russian injunctions.
Several social networks, Facebook in the lead, have already been sentenced to numerous fines, and the functioning of Twitter has been considerably slowed down in Russia for months by the telecommunications gendarme.
“Removing Navalny’s app from platforms is a shameful act of political censorship. The authoritarian government and Russian propaganda will be delighted, ”denounced on Twitter Ivan Zhdanov, who was the director of Mr. Navalny’s organization, the Anti-Corruption Fund, until its dissolution.
Not to give up”
“The whole Russian state and even the big tech companies are against us, but that doesn’t mean we can give up,” the Navalny team channel said on Telegram.
Some 108 million Russians are called to the polls from Friday to Sunday to elect the 450 deputies of the lower house of Parliament, the Duma. Half are appointed by proportional list system, the other half by first past the post.
With Russia spanning eleven time zones, the kick-off was given in the Kamchatka and Chukotka regions in the Far East at 8:00 a.m. local time (8:00 p.m. GMT Thursday). The results will be known after 6:00 p.m. GMT on Sunday.
“I don’t expect much from the elections, but I have come to express my opinion,” Alexander Chirokov, 55-year-old driver in Vladivostok, in the Far East, told AFP.
“I would like things not to get worse,” said Irina Kochkaréva, 76-year-old pensioner. “I would like something to change so that our children and grandchildren can work.”
Most of the opposition was banned from the ballot, the culmination of months of repression that began with the arrest of its leading figure, Alexeï Navalny, when he returned to Russia in January after a poisoning of which he accuses the Kremlin.
Unpopular, against a backdrop of corruption scandals and declining living standards, United Russia has less than 30% favorable opinions according to polls.
But training should nevertheless prevail, for lack of real competition, the other parties represented in the Duma – communists, nationalists and centrists – being on the whole in line with the Kremlin.