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Watchdogs Say Google Docs Temporarily Blocked In Russia After Navalny Releases Smart Voting List


Independent Internet monitors say access to Google Docs has been restored after a temporary outage that coincided with the publication by associates of jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny of a list of election candidates voters should cast ballots for to topple ruling party incumbents in elections later this week.

GlobalCheck, a group that monitors websites' accessibility in Russia, said late on September 15 that Russian telecommunications operators MTS, Megafon, and Rostelecom started blocking Google Docs hours after the list was published as part of Navalny's "Smart Voting" system.

Another watchdog, the online privacy NGO Roskomsvoboda, said it had noted that Tele2 customers in Russia also could not access the Google site ahead of the September 17-19 elections.

GlobalCheck said on September 16 that Google Docs was once again accessible.

Navalny's team said in a tweet that it had published the list on Github as a workaround to the blockage of Google Docs.

Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor denied it had ordered any blocking of the site, adding that as of midday on September 16, "the Internet services in question are accessible on the territory of the Russian Federation."

Russians will vote for a new State Duma -- the lower house of parliament -- along with legislatures in 39 regions and nine regional governors.

In recent years, authorities have adopted an array of legislation to boost Russia's Internet "sovereignty" while also investing in digital tools to make Internet policing more sophisticated.

In addition, most genuine Kremlin critics have been barred from running in the elections, seen as a key part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to further cement his hold on power heading into the next presidential balloting, scheduled for 2024.

Smart Voting, an idea that Navalny came up with in 2018, is an online strategy designed to promote candidates that have the best chance to defeat those from United Russia, the Kremlin-linked ruling party.

In two regional elections over the past two years, it showed largely successful results and allies of Navalny, whose movement was banned as extremist this summer, are hoping the system that runs on an app mobile phone users can download once again will upend candidates for United Russia.

The party has seen its popularity decline amid the Kremlin's flagging efforts to deal with an economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic and years of ongoing international sanctions.

With reporting by Meduza, TASS, and RIA Novosti
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