A news outlet reported earlier this week that the Russian government was increasing pressure on foreign tech giants ahead of federal elections, using the language of “election interference” to pressure US companies to censor a high-profile political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Zhdanov has also released what he claims is Apple’s response to Team Navalny, in which the tech giant justifies its removal of the software by citing the Kremlin’s classification of a number of pro-Navalny organizations as “extremist” groups.
Apple and Google routinely state that they follow “all local laws” in the countries in which they operate.
In Russia, however, that stance implies that they have become complicit in acts of political censorship.
“We note that the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation and the Prosecutor’s Office of the City of Moscow have also determined that the app violates Russian Federation legislation by enabling election interference,” Apple writes in the takedown notification it sent to the tactical voting app’s developer.
“While your app has been removed from the Russia App Store, it is still available in the App Stores for the other territories you selected in App Store Connect,” Apple continued.
Navalny’s app was removed, and Apple and Google were contacted for comment.
Zhdanov also urged supporters to concentrate on the tactical voting mission, tweeting a link to a video hosted on Google-owned YouTube that contains recommendations for Russians on how to vote anti-Putin in the parliamentary elections, which are taking place today through Sunday.
Navalny’s supporters hope to mobilize voters across Russia to cast tactical ballots in an attempt to unseat Putin by electing whoever has the best chance of defeating the ruling United Russia party.
Given that many of the suggested alternatives are, at best, only weakly opposed to Putin’s regime, their tactical voting strategy has drawn some criticism.
Navalny’s supporters, on the other hand, would undoubtedly point out that they are forced to work within a flawed system.
Last month, the Russian government attempted to block access to Navalny’s organization’s website after Apple and Google refused to remove his “Smart Voting” app.
It is also said to have targeted Google docs, which Navalny supporters have been using to organize tactical voting efforts.
It was reported earlier this month that Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, had threatened Apple and Google with fines if they did not remove the Smart Voting app, warning that failure to comply could be interpreted as election meddling.
On the eve of the election, Apple and Google were summoned to a meeting at the Federation Council, according to Russian media, as Putin’s regime attempted to force them to do his anti-democratic bidding.
According to a report by Kommersant, the tech giants were warned that the Russian Federation was preparing to tighten regulations on their businesses — and were told to “come to their senses,” before being warned that they had crossed a “red line.”
Finally, a last-ditch effort to get the platforms to remove Navalny’s app paid off.
Roskomnadzor has been targeting VPN apps in Russia for removal in recent weeks, making it difficult for Russians to circumvent the local ban on Navalny’s app by downloading it from other countries’ stores.
Yandex, the Russian search engine, has reportedly been told not to show search results for the Smart Voting app.
Putin’s regime also went after Twitter earlier this year, throttling the service for failing to remove content it wanted banned, despite Roskomnadzor claiming the action was related to non-political content like minors committing suicide, child sexual exploitation, and drug use.