Russian opposition activists accused Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google of removing a protest-voting app from their Russian stores Friday under pressure from authorities as parliamentary elections got underway.
The U.S. technology companies “have caved into the Kremlin’s blackmail,” Leonid Volkov, a top aide to jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny wrote on Telegram. The Putin critic’s supporters denounced the move as “a shameful act of political censorship.”
Google removed the app in Russia under pressure after officials threatened to imprison its local employees, a person close to the company said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Apple and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Russian authorities had accused the companies of meddling in the elections by offering the opposition apps despite court rulings banning access to the content. The head of parliament’s committee on investigating foreign interference in Russia’s domestic affairs, Vasily Piskarev, said Thursday the companies’ staff could face criminal charges if the apps weren’t removed, the state news service Tass reported. Regulators warned of new fines and other measures.
Navalny’s so-called smart voting initiative aims to galvanize discontent over stagnant living standards to defeat ruling party candidates. Russia is holding three days of voting for the State Duma lower house of parliament from Friday to Sunday, in which Putin’s unpopular United Russia party is counting on a commanding victory.
The smart-voting app, also accessible through Navalny’s eponymous version, wasn’t accessible Friday on Google Play or App Store in Russia, though it remains visible to users in other countries. Russian courts have banned online references to smart voting and declared Navalny’s organizations “extremist.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the removals, saying, “these applications are illegal on the territory of our country.”
The crackdown also led to interruptions in access to Google Docs in Russia after…