This weekend saw a huge spike in the number of Russians turning out onto the streets of Moscow. While the demonstrations were initially against the decision to ban several opposition leaders from standing in next month’s elections, they appear to have turned into a wider movement against the Russian state. Putin has now called on Google to stop promoting various live streams of the event – despite the Kremlin approving the protest.
Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media – also known as Roskomnadzor – sent a letter to Google asking the tech giant to take measures against the protest’s promotion.
A statement released yesterday read: “According to available information, a number of structures with YouTube channels acquire advertising tools from YouTube such as ‘push notifications’ in order to disseminate information about unauthorised illegal mass events, including those aimed at disrupting elections of federal and regional significance.
“At the same time, such ‘push notifications’ are received including by users who are not subscribed to the YouTube channels of these structures.”
There also appeared to be a coded message to the White House regarding the two-year investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election.
In a sharp warning to the US-based tech giant, the statement suggested that continuing to showcase the demonstrations would have consequences.
It read: “In the event Google does not take a response, the Russian Federation will regard this as interference in the sovereign affairs of the state, as well as a hostile influence and obstructing the holding of democratic elections in Russia, leaving the right to an adequate reaction.”
It comes after last week’s accusation by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the US is interfering in Moscow’s domestic affairs.
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The Kremlin’s response came amid reports that Putin’s approval ratings have fallen to their lowest level since 2013 – 64 percent.
It suggests that a stagnant economy – which has led to inflation and lower living standards in recent years – is creating discontent with a seemingly untouchable leader.
Sociologist and pollster Denis Volkov suggested that the initial protests over next month’s elections have allowed Russian people to display collective dissent.
He added: “The protests are about the deep disappointment Russians have in their government.
“It’s like the genie is out of the bottle and people can finally express their frustrations.”
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Putin celebrated 20 years in power last week after taking over from Boris Yeltsin in 1999.
His popularity has consistently remained above that of the United Russia government itself, allowing the leader to rule for his fourth term.
The President’s popularity spiked when he annexed Crimea in 2014, with polling expert Lev Gudkov suggesting that Putin had “restored the image of Russia as a superpower, at least in the eyes of Russians, and restored the authority the Soviet Union had”.
However, a resurgent liberal movement seems to have the long-term leader on the ropes.
Analysts suggest this may lead to further censorship and quelling of opposition in order to firm up his own position.
This is not the first time that Roskomnadzor has clashed with Google, though.
Russian laws were introduced requiring all search engines to omit various results showing anti-state news and videos.
Google was also compelled to remove YouTube videos from opposition leader Alexei Navalny under the guise of violating election campaign laws.