The Russian authorities have warned Google against breaking electoral law by carrying YouTube ads promoting upcoming protests. However, the opposition figures who paid for the ads say they are not breaking the law.
On Sunday, September 9, many Russians will go to the polls in a cluster of gubernatorial elections, regional elections and by-elections.
Also on Sunday, Russian dissidents plan to hold rallies around the country in protest against Vladimir Putin's government, which is currently hemorrhaging popularity over its plan to raise the pension age.
Alexei Navalny, the leader of the opposition, was arrested a couple weekends ago in connection with a protest he organized in January. He was subsequently jailed for 30 days, in a move that he said is designed to stop him spearheading the upcoming protests.
On Tuesday, local media reported that a variety of agencies, including the Central Election Commission (CEC) and communications regulator Roskomnadzor, had written to Google to complain about ads running on YouTube that had been bought by Navalny's colleagues.
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"We have informed Google that such activities held during the election campaign will lead to numerous violations of election laws since it is prohibited to campaign on the day prior to elections," said CEC member Alexander Klyukin, as quoted by the TASS news agency.
"Foreign companies' interference in the election campaign in our country -- no matter what form it takes -- will be considered as a law violation and election meddling."
TASS also reported that the Russian government is prepared to complain directly to Washington about US tech companies' "interference" in the elections.
Leonid Volkov, an ally of Navalny's who was chief of staff during his failed 2018 presidential campaign -- Navalny was barred from running against Putin -- said on Facebook that the CEC is lying about the election law it purports to enforce.
He said it is true that his team bought ads on YouTube and Instagram to promote Sunday's protests.
Indeed, he noted that no Russian mass-information channels would agree to transmit that message. However, the rallies are not campaigning activities, and in any case the election law does not restrict freedom of assembly.
Volkov claimed the episode showed that "all the structures of Russian power" are aligning to stop Sunday's protests, out of fear at the public's discontent over the pension reforms.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
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