An anti-Kremlin election mobile app suddenly disappeared from Google and Apple online stores. The two American giants are said to have yielded to strong pressure from the Russian authorities, including threats of reprisals against their employees.
The Russian opposition accused the giants Google and Apple on Friday September 17 of “censorship” after the removal of an anti-Kremlin mobile electoral application, on the first day of legislative elections also marked, according to detractors of power, by fraud.
In isolation because of an outbreak of Covid-19 in his entourage, President Vladimir Putin voted electronically.
The withdrawal of the application of the movement of the imprisoned opponent Alexeï Navalny comes after months of repression which have dismissed the detractors of Vladimir Putin from these elections scheduled for three days, from Friday to Sunday.
“The whole Russian state and even the big tech companies are against us, but that doesn’t mean we can give up,” Navalny’s team channeled on Telegram.
Leonid Volkov, exiled opposition leader, accused Apple and Google of “censorship” and “giving in to the Kremlin’s blackmail” by removing the software from their stores. “This application is illegal in our country,” replied the spokesman for the Russian presidency, Dmitry Peskov.
As almost no anti-Putin candidate has been allowed to run for the legislative elections, Alexeï Navalny’s supporters have developed a so-called “smart vote” strategy intended to support the candidate – often Communist – best placed to put the candidate in difficulty. of the ruling party, United Russia.
The application made it possible to know for which competitor to vote in each legislative constituency but also during dozens of local and regional elections. In the past, this approach had met with some success, especially in Moscow in 2019.
Google and Apple did not immediately comment. But Moscow has recently multiplied admonitions to internet giants refusing to remove content deemed illegal, especially those of the Navalny movement banned for “extremism” since June.
Representatives of Apple and Google were summoned Thursday before a committee of the upper house of Parliament.
On Friday, Senator Andrei Klimov, head of this commission, estimated that the American groups “drew the only valid conclusion” from their “conversation”.
According to a source familiar with the matter, Apple has removed this application for fear of reprisals for its employees, after having received “threats of arrest” in Russia. Another source assured that Google also made this decision “under unprecedented duress”, citing “serious public threats” against “local employees”.
Some 108 million Russians are being called to the polls to elect 450 deputies to the lower house of parliament, the Duma.
At 5 p.m. GMT on Friday, the turnout stood at 16.85%, according to the Central Election Commission.
“Under these conditions of health restrictions, of quarantine, I fulfilled my civic duty online”, declared the Russian president, in a video broadcast by the Kremlin.
Its detractors have denounced fraud, disseminating as with each ballot many videos and photos on social networks.
Suspicion of fraud
They explained the large queues observed in front of certain polling stations by the pressure exerted on officials and employees by their leaders to go and vote during their working hours.
The NGO specializing in election observation, Golos, also details this type of fraud on its website, for example publishing photos of stacks of ballots folded in piles inside the ballot boxes.
This respected organization has been classified as a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, an infamous label complicating its activity.
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Among the voters interviewed by AFP, some did not hide their disappointment. Evguéni Kovtounov, a computer scientist, estimated that no “significant change” would emerge from the ballot.
In Moscow too, Mikhail Streltsov, 91-year-old retiree, is instead satisfied with the status quo: “the most important thing is that the country is stable and develops”.
Most of the opposition was banned from the ballot, the culmination of months of repression started with the arrest of Alexeï Navalny, while 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, the United Russia party has less than 30% favorable opinions according to polls.
But training should nonetheless prevail, for lack of real competition, the other parties represented in the Duma – communists, nationalists and centrists – being on the whole in line with President Putin, who remains popular.