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Apple, Google remove Navalny app as Russian elections begin
An app created by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny that has drawn the ire of Russian authorities appeared to have been removed from Apple and Google stores Friday ahead of the country's parliamentary elections this weekend.
The Associated Press reported that the move comes after Apple and Google representatives were invited Thursday to meet at the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's parliament, after which the council said that Apple had agreed to cooperate with repeated demands from authorities to remove the app over concerns of election interference.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP that Russian officials also pushed Google to remove the app in the face of legal demands by regulators and threats of criminal prosecution.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration "definitely, of course" welcomes the move by the companies, arguing that the app was operating "outside the law."
The disappearance of the app from Apple and Google stores comes the same day polls opened in Russia's three-day parliamentary elections, which are seen by many analysts as an important component to Putin's efforts to maintain control over the country's institutions.
According to the AP, the app features a project designed by Navalny called Smart Voting, which specifically promotes politicians deemed most likely to successfully defeat Kremlin-backed candidates in elections.
Earlier this month, Roskomnadzor, Russia's communications watchdog, had threatened Apple and Google with fines if they failed to remove the pro-Navalny app, with Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying that the tech giants were required to remove content that violated Russian law.
She added at the time, "Such arrogant and selective behavior and demonstrative ignoring of repeated requests from the relevant Russian agencies regarding the content designated as extremist is particularly unacceptable in the context of the current electoral processes."
Last week, Russia's Foreign Ministry claimed that U.S. tech companies were interfering in its parliamentary elections.
Though the statement did not specifically mention Google or Apple, it followed the earlier threats of fines against the companies, and called the alleged "interference in the internal affairs" of Russia "absolutely unacceptable."
The Hill has reached out to Apple and Google for comment on the app's removal.
Russia has continued to crack down on Navalny's supporters in recent months, with his top allies issued criminal charges as the opposition leader himself serves a more than two-year prison sentence that he and his allies have argued is politically motivated.
Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption has also been outlawed in Russia and deemed an extremist organization.