Apple, Google Removing Russia Election Voting App Shows Kremlin Is Afraid–Navalny Aide

The removal by Apple and Google of an app linked to Alexei Navalny shows how afraid Russia's authorities are of its ability to hurt the Kremlin, a key ally to the opposition politician has said.

On Friday, the tech giants deleted the Navalny app from their online stores after the Russian authorities threatened jail time for their employees, according to the Putin critic's team.

The app's deletion on the first day Russians went to the polls for the Duma election has led to accusations that the tech giants, which Newsweek has contacted for comment, were complicit in political censorship.

It followed weeks of pressure exerted on the companies by the communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, which accused the tech giants of meddling in internal Russian affairs and pointed to its link to Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption (FBK), which is designated an "extremist" organization.

"It shows that the authorities are really afraid of smart voting," said Vladimir Ashurkov, FBK executive director, about the app's removal, "they spare no resources in trying to suppress our efforts at campaigning for smart voting and for the candidates that have been selected and published yesterday."

"I am surprised by Google and Apple's decision because all these apps do is select the candidates we recommend to vote," Ashurkov told Newsweek, "there is nothing controversial about it."

The "smart voting" app was developed to organize a tactical voting campaign informing people how to coalesce around candidates who could best challenge the ruling United Russia party.

Before heading to cast their ballot, a user in the country's 225 districts could enter their address which would inform them of the candidate most likely to beat a United Russia contender.

Navalny's team shared a statement it said was from Apple which said the app was deleted because it "violates the legislation of the Russian Federation by enabling interference in elections."

The FBK team said Russian employees of Google and Apple had faced legal threats over the app, however it intends to find other ways of getting voters to oppose the ruling party.

"There are many channels to get this information to people who need it," Ashurkov said.

The crackdown on FBK has been gathering pace since Navalny was jailed for violating parole over a previous conviction. He inspired protests across the country following his poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok in an incident that the Kremlin was accused of being behind but denies responsibility for.

The app's deletion is the latest development in an ongoing clampdown by Russia's authorities on the internet and western tech giants.

In the last few months, the Kremlin has attacked global platforms they consider to be the enablers of opposition protests with TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook fined for content they hosted linked to pro-Navalny demonstrations.

Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist and Russian internet expert described the deletion of the Navalny app as "a sad day."

"Of course I don't expect global corporations to fight for democracy and free elections in Russia but what we've seen this year is a constant retreat," he told Newsweek.

"It provokes the Kremlin to push more and the Kremlin will push for more because it's not about the election this Sunday, it is a big and systematic offensive on internet freedoms."

Smart phone with Navalny app
A phone screen with the "Smart Voting" app developed by the team of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. His FBK group accused Apple and Google of censorship for removing the app from its stores. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/Getty