After the Kremlin was under pressure, Apple and Google abandoned the Navalny app

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Newsletter: Euro Express

Under strong pressure from the Kremlin, Apple and Google have removed from their online stores a tactical voting app made by supporters of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny because of the country’s voting here we go Parliamentary election.

According to a person familiar with the matter, after Russian communications regulators and law enforcement agencies put forward “multiple legal requirements, not requirements,” Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store blocked further downloads of the app in Russia on Friday morning. .

This move is the biggest concession that Western technology companies have made to the Kremlin’s increasingly stringent online content censorship requirements. President Vladimir Putin once stated that if the Internet does not “obey formal legal rules and social ethics,” it may cause society to “collapse from within.”

People familiar with the matter also said that if the company does not comply with the Kremlin’s requirements and removes the application from stores and search engines, Google employees will receive public and private threats of criminal prosecution.

They said armed personnel believed to be police officers stayed at Google’s Moscow office for several hours on Monday. A day later, the bailiff also visited these offices and asked them to comply with the ruling of the Moscow court and remove the application from the search results.

The person believes that the threat to employees of this nature is unprecedented, saying that “it has never been so serious before.”

Both Apple and Google declined to comment on Friday.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, stated that after the app, which was designed to encourage tactical voting on Putin’s United Russia Party, disappeared from the App Store and Google Play Store, American technology companies ” Succumbed to the blackmail of the Kremlin”.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov welcomed the decision of the technical organization and said that opposition apps are illegal in Russia © AP

Apple justified this decision based on a June Moscow court ruling, which declared that Navalny’s foundation is “Extreme organization“According to a screenshot released by Ivan Zhdanov, the former director of the opposition organization.

The anti-corruption activist was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany in January, where he was treated. Nerve agent poisoning He accused Putin of ordering.

After Navalny’s supporters organized protests in dozens of cities across the country, Russia responded with unprecedented repression, forcing most of his top allies into exile.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin welcomed the decision of the technology group. According to Interfax News Agency, Peskov said: “This application is illegal in our country.”

The move shows that the Kremlin is determined to clear the dissent on the Internet before the country’s three-day vote. Despite growing dissatisfaction with the decline in living standards, the United Russia Party is expected to win easily.

Since dozens of Navalny’s allies were eliminated in the ballot, his team urged supporters to vote for the Kremlin-approved “loyal opposition” candidates recommended by the app. Peskov said this strategy is “provocative” and will “harm the voters.”

Russia accused Silicon Valley companies of interfering in voting by refusing to remove all applications that mention Navalny from the Internet. Although it is blocked in the Google Play store, the information in the application can still be obtained through Google search.

Andrei Klimov, chairman of the Committee on Defense of State Sovereignty, the upper house of the Russian parliament, said that after the Kremlin adopted a series of enforcement measures, Apple and Google decided to remove the app from their stores.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned US Ambassador John Sullivan and provided him with “irrefutable evidence” that technology companies including Apple and Google violated Russia’s election legislation.

At the hearing on Thursday, lawmakers threatened local employees of Apple and Google that if they did not comply with the regulations, they would be subject to criminal prosecution and fined between 5% and 20% of the local revenue of the two companies.

“Google and Apple made the only correct decision,” Klimov said in a video posted on the committee channel, on the messaging app Telegram on Friday. “It’s very simple: everyone on Russian territory must abide by the Russian Constitution and Russian laws.”

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