Nearly two dozen overseas organizations operating in Russia attempted to influence the results of the country's parliamentary elections held over the weekend, a leading lawmaker has claimed, promising to take action against them.
In a statement issued shortly after polls closed early on Monday morning, Vasily Piskarev, the head of a State Duma commission investigating foreign interference in Russia's domestic affairs, said that there had been efforts to sway the vote from abroad. According to him, there had been a pre-planned campaign "to prompt people and shape their choices imposed on Russians during the voting."
"Moreover, a number of foreign NGOs – more than 20 organizations in total – during the election campaign openly called on Facebook, Twitter and Google not to comply with authorities' orders and ignore Russian legal requirements to take down banned content," Piskarev said. Officials have been locked into a row with the American tech giants in recent weeks over claims the companies are allowing users to circumvent a block and access 'Smart Voting' resources promoted by allies of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny.
In the lead-up to the election, Russia's media regulator, Roskomnadzor, issued a stern warning to Apple and Google, as well as VPN service providers Cloudflare and Cisco, insisting that they comply with the take-down request. Authorities say that the site and its associated app, designed to maximize the impact of anti-Kremlin votes, are extensions of Navalny's campaign headquarters, and banned under a court ruling that designated it an 'extremist organization' earlier this year. Moscow had summoned the US ambassador, John Sullivan, to the Foreign Ministry, and presented him with evidence of "serious" efforts to meddle in the vote.
According to Piskarev, his commission "has now prepared an appeal to the Prosecutor General's office, with a proposal to recognize these NGOs as 'undesirable' on Russian soil."
Apple and Google removed the 'Smart Voting' app from their platforms on Saturday, responding to requests from officials. A number of activists have since expressed their disappointment at the decision, and members of Navalny's team have even mooted suing the networks for taking down their resources.
At the same time, the chair of the country's Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, claimed that hackers had attempted to target election infrastructure. "The number of cyber-attacks has grown significantly," she said on Monday morning. "And many have targeted the Central Election Commission website. It is clear where they are coming from, and naturally we will present this to those countries after the elections and let them figure it out."
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