Navalny app removed from online stores when Russian polls open


MOSCOW (AP) – An app created by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny disappeared from Apple and Google stores on Friday as polls opened across Russia for three days of voting in an election parliamentary.

It comes as Russian authorities seek to suppress the use of smart voting, a scheme devised by Navalny to promote candidates most likely to defeat those backed by the Kremlin.. This weekend’s election is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to consolidate his grip on power ahead of the 2024 presidential election, for which control of parliament is essential.

Apple and Google have come under pressure in recent weeks, with Russian officials urging them to remove the app, which includes smart voting, saying failure to do so would be interpreted as interference in the election and threatened them with fines.

Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador John Sullivan about the situation.

Representatives from Apple and Google were invited to a meeting at the upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, on Thursday. The commission said in a statement after the meeting that Apple had agreed to cooperate 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 demands from regulators and threats of criminal prosecution in Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the case who also said police officers Russians went to Google’s Moscow offices on Monday to enforce a court order. to block the application. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the presidential administration “of course” welcomes the companies’ decision to remove the app because it complies with Russian laws. Peskov said the app was “outlawed” in Russia.

In recent months, authorities have unleashed a sweeping crackdown on allies and supporters of Navalny in an attempt to suppress smart voting.

After recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent last year, Navalny was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for parole violation in a previous conviction. He says the poisoning and sentencing were politically motivated – accusations the Kremlin denies.

Its main allies have been accused of criminal charges and its Anti-Corruption Foundation, along with a network of regional offices, have been outlawed as extremist organizations. This exposed hundreds of people associated with the groups to prosecution. Many of his main collaborators have left the country. About 50 websites managed by his team have been blocked and dozens of regional offices have been closed.

The authorities have also decided to block the Smart Voting website, but some Internet users can still access it. The Navalny team also created a Smart Voting chatbot on the Telegram messaging app and posted a list of Smart Voting approved candidates in Google Docs and YouTube.

Navalny’s close ally Ivan Zhdanov tweeted a screenshot of what appears to be an email from Apple on Friday, explaining why the app should be removed from the store. The screenshot cites the designation of extremism for the Anti-Corruption Foundation and allegations of electoral interference. “Google, Apple are making a big mistake,” Zhdanov wrote.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s top strategist, wrote on Facebook that the companies were “bowing to the Kremlin’s blackmail.” He noted that the move does not affect users who have already downloaded the app and it should work fine.

Peskov called the smart vote on Friday “yet another attempt at provocations harmful to voters.”

As voting began in Russia on Friday morning, long lines and large crowds formed at some polling stations in Moscow and other cities. Russian media attributed them to state institutions and companies forcing their employees to vote.

Peskov dismissed the allegations and suggested that people queuing at polling stations voluntarily went there because they had to work weekends or wanted to “free” on Saturday and Sunday.

Dr Anna Truchina, a radiologist at a Moscow hospital, told the PA that she had visited a polling station in central Moscow “to be honest, because we were forced (to come and vote) because of my work. Frankly speaking. ”

She added: “And I also want to know who is leading us.”


Kelvin Chan in London and Vladimir Kondrashov in Moscow contributed reporting.


Luz W. German