By Daria Litvinova and Kelvin Chan
MOSCOW (AP) – Faced with pressure from the Kremlin, Apple and Google on Friday removed an anti-counterfeit smartphone app that tells voters that any candidate can defeat candidates backed by Russian authorities as voting in Russia’s parliamentary elections opens for three days.
Unexpectedly long lines are formed at some polling stations and independent media suggest that it may show that state institutions and agencies are forcing workers to vote. This election is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to consolidate power before the 2024 presidential election, where control of the State Duma or Parliament will be important.
Russian authorities have tried to suppress the use of smart voting, a planned strategy by imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny to prevent the domination of the Kremlin-backed United Russia party.
Apple and Google have come under pressure in recent weeks, with Russian officials saying they will remove the Smart Voting app from their online store. Failure to do so would be interpreted as interference in the election and would result in them being fined, officials said.
Last week, Russia’s foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador John Sullivan over the issue.
On Thursday, representatives of Apple and Google were invited to a meeting of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament. The council’s commission to protect state sovereignty later said in a statement that Apple had agreed to cooperate with Russian authorities.
Apple and Google did not respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press on Friday.
Google was forced to remove the app because it faced legal demands from regulators and the threat of criminal justice in Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, Russian police went to Google’s Moscow office on Monday to enforce the court order. Due to the sensitivity of the app issue, the person spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that the presidential administration certainly welcomed the company’s decision because the app was “out of the law” in Russia.
In recent months, authorities have launched a massive crackdown on Navalny’s allies and engaged in a massive effort to suppress smart voting.
Navalny is serving a 27-year sentence for violating parole. Criminal charges have been filed against his top associates and many have fled the country. The Navalny Foundation to Fight Corruption, as well as a network of regional offices, have been banned as extremist organizations, bringing hundreds of those involved to justice.
About 50 websites run by his team have been blocked, and dozens of regional offices have been shut down. Authorities are also blocking the Smart Voting website, but some users may still access it. Navalny’s team has created a smart voting chat bot on the messaging app Telegram and published a list of candidates for smart voting approval on Google Docs and YouTube.
Close Navalny collaborator Ivan Zhadanov tweeted a screenshot of what appears to be an email from Apple on Friday, explaining why the app should be removed from the store. Screenshots refer to the Foundation for Fighting as an extremist with allegations of corruption and election interference. “Google, Apple is making a big mistake,” Zhadanov wrote.
Navalny’s top strategist Leonid Volkov wrote on Facebook that the companies “leaned towards the Kremlin’s blackmail.” He noted that the move does not affect users who have already downloaded the app and that it should work properly.
Volkov told the AP last month that at one point in August, the app ranked third among social networking apps on Google Play in Russia and fourth in the App Store in the same category.
Peskov on Friday called the smart vote “another attempt to provoke that is detrimental to voters.”
Long queues at some polling stations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other cities have raised concerns about forced voting.
David Kankia of Golos’ independent election monitoring group told the AP that it was easier for state institutions and agencies to force people to vote on Friday because of the lack of attention from observers.
“Some observers are busy with work, some with university studies, because it’s a working day, not a weekend,” he said. “Monitoring is difficult to organize, so the risk for administrative machinery is low.”
Peskov denied the allegations and suggested that those who were voluntarily at the polling station because they had to work on the weekends or wanted to be “free” on Saturdays and Sundays.
Putin, who has been isolated since Tuesday after being infected with Kovid-1 with dozens of people in his inner circle, voted online on Friday বিকল্প an option that is available in seven regions of Russia this year. Critics of the Kremlin say it leaves room for manipulation.
Dr. To put it bluntly. “
“And I also want to know who leads us,” he added.
In St. Petersburg, the media reported suspicious cases of “carousel voting”, where voters cast ballots at various polling stations. An AP video journalist saw the same voters, believed to be military school students, at two different polling stations; One of them said the party first went to the wrong polling station.
A member of the local election commission posted a video showing a man trying to cast several ballots and then confronting a voter. The man in the video said he received his ballot at a subway station.
Although Google and Apple do not report their earnings in Russia, they are at great risk there, said Ruben Enikolopov, a professor of political economy at the New Economic School in Moscow.
“It’s a very big market, 140 million people,” he said. “Losing such a market for them is not insignificant at all. It won’t really hurt their financial performance, but it’s a big hit so they will try a lot to lose. ”
Enikolopov said both companies are trying to avoid difficulties for their Russia-based employees.
Western technology giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Google have come under pressure from the Russian government this year to escalate their differences. Authorities complained to the platforms that they had failed to remove the protest call and imposed heavy fines on them.
Companies face similar challenges elsewhere. In India, the government is at a standstill with Twitter, which accuses it of failing to comply with new internet rules that digital workers say could reduce online speech and privacy.
Turkey passed a law last year that raised fears of censorship, giving authorities more power to control social media companies that also needed to establish local legal entities – Facebook and Twitter – to meet that demand.
Twitter has been banned in Nigeria since June, when the company withdrew a controversial tweet from the country’s president, although the government has promised to lift it soon.
Chan reports from London. Brian, RI, and Vladimir Kondrashov and Anna Frantz of Moscow contributed to Matt O (backslash) Providence.