Activists said the search giant had tried to kill jailed opposition leader Alexei A. Agreed to Moscow’s requests to restrict access to online videos and documents being used by Navalny’s associates.
MOSCOW — Russian opposition activists said Google had removed videos and documents being used to organize protest votes in this weekend’s elections, the latest sign of the Kremlin’s mounting pressure on the US internet giant.
Activists said actions taken by Google in response to the government’s demands include imprisoned opposition leader Alexei A. This includes blocking access inside Russia to several YouTube and Google Docs links being used by Navalny’s associates. , member of Mr. Navalny’s team. On Friday, Google and Apple removed the activist group’s protest-voting app after Russian officials threatened to sue employees of US companies inside the country.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
“This content is not available in the domain of this country due to a legal complaint from the government,” says a YouTube message when users in Russia attempt to open a blocked video.
Russian elections are not free and fair, and videos showing ballot fillings and other forms of fraud have circulated on social media during the three-day voting that began on Friday. Despite the decline in approval ratings, President Vladimir V. Putin’s governing party United Russia was certain to be declared the winner after the elections were over.
Still, Mr. Navalny’s allies are hoping to use a strategy they call “smart voting” by pooling their votes to elect as many challengers as possible for a united Russia. Putin to be reprimanded, regardless of the political views of the challengers.
“It’s an election without a choice, and when they can create the results they need, ‘smart voting’ is a good mechanism,” said Philip Samsonov, 32, a photographer in Moscow. “I hope one day I can vote with all my heart.”
Mr Samsonov said he planned to vote for the candidate chosen by the Navalny team in his district – in his case, a communist – the person who has the best chance of defeating the governing party’s candidate. Mr Samsonov also said he planned to vote on Sunday evening to reduce the chance that something would happen on his ballot.
Mr. Navalny’s strategy has been complicated by Russian authorities’ cat-and-mouse attempts to shut down the online activism of his exiled allies. After Google complied with Russian Internet regulator demands on Saturday that it list YouTube videos and Google Docs files smart-voting pics, the Navalny team quickly published new videos and documents that were available inside Russia on Sunday .
“It may seem strange that a Google Doc somewhere on the Internet could change so much,” Mr Navalny’s aides posted on the messaging app Telegram. “But still, it’s like that.”
Google’s compliance with Russia’s demands in recent days has represented a remarkable concession for a company that prides itself on enabling the open exchange of information. In Russia, Google’s products – in particular, YouTube – have helped provide a way for free expression, even as the Kremlin withdrew democratic freedoms.
Specific threats to prosecute some of Google’s more than 100 Google employees inside Russia forced the company to withdraw the Navalny smartphone app, a person familiar with Google’s decision said on Friday. In recent months Russian courts have declared Mr. Navalny’s movement extremist and his smart-voting campaign illegal.
This weekend’s elections come amid a crackdown on dissent by the Kremlin and a flurry of popular discontent. Apparently for fear of reprisal at the ballot box, officials barred almost all well-known opposition figures from running for parliament, while forcing many dissidents into exile and declaring popular independent media outlets “foreign agents”.
Election observers and Kremlin critics said the multi-faceted nature of the elections – officially put down to minimize the spread of the coronavirus – increased the potential for fraud by making the process difficult to monitor.
The leader of the Communist Party of Russia, Gennady A. Zyuganov said there had been a “large amount” of violations in the elections and warned of demonstrations in the coming days – a notable statement because communists are generally loyal to Mr. on major issues.
“I cannot deny that all this will lead to mass protests,” Mr. Zyuganov said on Twitter on Saturday. “I’m sure people won’t stand for the coercive replacement of their choice.”
Last summer, widespread fraud in the presidential election in neighboring Belarus sparked massive street protests – a scenario that analysts say the Kremlin is determined to prevent from happening in Russia. Buses of riot police officers were stationed around central Moscow throughout the weekend, but it is too early to tell if there will be any protests.
The authorities pulled out all the stops to get the typical United Russia base for elections: public sector workers, members of the military and security services, and pensioners. On Friday in central Moscow, groups of men in civilian clothing, all wearing uniform, tightly clipped haircuts, stood outside a polling station that covers the Russian Defense Ministry.
Some admitted they were members of the military and were “strongly advised” by their commanders to vote on Friday. Others said they were given time to vote before the weekend, which they planned to spend out of town.
And many Russians continue to support Mr. Putin. Outside a polling place in Moscow, 46-year-old Tatyana Kolosova, a schoolteacher, said she voted against United Russia to “have some competition in the political arena”. He said he expected a change in government after the elections, resulting in more efforts to reduce unemployment and support private business.
But he dismissed Mr Navalny as an “enemy of our country” and promised to vote for Mr Putin if he was president in 2024, recalling the relative poverty and anarchy of the 1990s before he came to power. Ran for a fifth term as
“I am grateful that God gave us such a leader,” she said.
Adam Satriano Contributed reporting from London.