- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Moscow has warned Google against meddling in regional and municipal elections scheduled for Sunday, raising concerns over YouTube videos urging Russians to participate in protests this weekend organized by opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Russia’s Central Election Commission, the Prosecutor-General’s Office and Roskomnadzor, the government’s internet and media watchdog, have sent written complaints to Google boss Larry Page in response to Mr. Navalny’s videos, officials said Tuesday.

“Mr. Navalny buys the company’s advertising tools to publish information on YouTube about the mass political event on September 9, on the day of elections,” commission member Alexander Klyukin said after representatives from the agencies met for a working meeting at Russia’s upper house of parliament, multiple news outlets reported.

“We informed Google that such events on election day will lead to massive violation of the law,” Mr. Klyukin told reporters, adding: “Meddling by a foreign company in our election is not permitted.”

YouTube “acts as a link in the chain for propaganda of anti-social behavior during Russian elections,” said Vadim Subbotin, the watchdog’s deputy chief.

“By providing virtually unlimited opportunities from foreign internet giants such as Google, a number of people interested in destabilizing the situation in Russia are making attempts to attract users to illegal activities on the internet,” Mr. Subbotin said, state-run media reported. “The absence of a proper reaction on their part will be considered, as a matter of fact, a direct interference in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation.”

One of the nation’s most vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Navalny, 42, has urged Russians to protest Sunday in response to the government’s widely unpopular plan to raise the retirement age. He is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence over anti-government demonstrations held earlier this year, and his supporters have accused Russian authorities of squelching attempts to organize protests in his absence.

YouTube is “the only channel to inform the masses,” said Leonid Volkov, a close ally of Mr. Navalny. “All levels of the Russian government … have been ordered to block the protest by any means necessary,” he wrote on Facebook, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

In addition to strictly regulating internet content accessible in Russia, Moscow has faced scrutiny from human rights defenders abroad after Mr. Putin’s administration attempted to curb anti-government demonstrations by making it illegal to participate in unsanctioned protests.

Google is “inches” from violating Russian electoral law, senior Foreign Ministry official Andrei Nesterenko told the Kommersant newspaper Tuesday.

“This is a rather serious measure, after which they can be called to account,” including by way of potential prosecution, agreed Alexei Zhafyarov, an official from the Prosecutor-General’s Office.

Google declined to comment on the particularly complaints but said the company “will consider all valid requests from governmental bodies,” The Moscow Times reported.

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