Before Russia blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for its citizens, Russian services were actively fighting Big Tech in order to destroy the opposition.
The FSB, i.e. Russia’s security service, has even gone as far as threatening to imprison the Russian directors of Google and Apple if they do not act in line with the Kremlin’s expectations, writes “The Washington Post”.
In 2021, Vladimir Putin’s chief critic, Alexei Navalny, launched a smartphone application through which he could communicate directly with his supporters and plan votes for the Russian Duma in the upcoming elections. The application showed which candidate in which region had the greatest chance of defeating the candidate of Putin’s ruling United Russia party.
The plan: to break through the Russian parliament
Navalny’s plan was not to take over the Duma, because his team considered it an impossible task. Navalny predicted that with proper coordination and commitment, he would be able to introduce 60-70 new members to the Duma.
Navalny, who gained popularity and support as a blogger actively using the Internet, was well on his way to implementing his plan. That’s when Rozkomnadzor, the government body that controls the Russian Internet, came into action. In accordance with the Kremlin’s will, the application was deemed to violate Russian regulations, and Navalny himself and his supporters were considered extremists. The American ambassador in Moscow was informed that American technology giants are trying to influence the course of elections in Russia.
The Russian government has said that Google and Apple are helping commit crimes in Russia and that their Russian employees could be held criminally liable.
The FSB threatened a Google employee
According to The Washington Post, one of Google’s directors in Russia received a threat from the FSB that if Navalny’s application did not disappear from the Google Play app store, she would personally go to prison. A Google employee was transferred to a hotel under a false name. The same FSB agents then appeared at the door of the hotel room where the woman was hiding. Over the next few hours, Navalny’s app disappeared from both the Google Play Store and the Apple AppStore.
Russia has already tried to impose its rules on tech giants. Rozkomnadzor fined the companies a total of $120 million and legally obliged them to maintain offices with employees in Russia. Some American commentators called it “hostage law”.
During the war with Ukraine, Russia is putting the final nails in the coffin of freedom of speech. The government passed a law punishing anyone with up to 15 years in prison for spreading information that is inconsistent with the Kremlin’s message, i.e., de facto, for telling the truth. Rozkomnadzor blocked Russians’ access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter.