Russia's media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has blocked the last remaining portal open to the Smart Voting website developed by jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's team to support candidates in the upcoming elections to defeat Kremlin-linked figures and candidates for the ruling United Russia party.
Navalny's close associate, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Telegram late on September 6 that the site votesmart.appspot.com, the last access to the Smart Voting app, was cut off after Russian authorities had blocked all other entry points.
"It may sound strange, but this is good news: All attempts to break Google and make it remove our site, which is deemed as 'extremist,' have failed," thus forcing authorities to do it themselves, Volkov wrote, calling on voters who have already downloaded the Smart Voting app from Google or Apple "to defeat" Kremlin-backed candidates.
According to Volkov, to block the site, Roskomnadzor is using a TSPU (technical tools to counter threats) system which it had forced all Internet and communications operators to install as part of the country's controversial "sovereign" Internet law. The tools block access to servers from which the app is downloaded.
Navalny's Smart Voting system launched a downloadable app on August 24 that identifies in most races the candidate most likely to defeat their ruling party rival, regardless of party affiliation or ideology, and urges voters to cast their votes for that candidate.
With opinion polls indicating waning support for United Russia, authorities have ramped up pressure on dissent ahead of the elections, and authorities have tried various methods to block access to the app.
Russia passed legislation in 2019 on the development of a "sovereign Internet" network that would cut off the country's access to the World Wide Web, a move critics say is meant to muzzle free speech.
Roskomnadzor has barred 49 websites linked to Navalny this summer while the Moscow Arbitration Court recently ordered Google, Apple, and Russian search engine Yandex from displaying the phrase "smart voting" in search results.
Navalny's website -- navalny.com -- was officially blocked in Russia in late July, while a Moscow City Court last month ruled in favor of a prosecutor's motion to declare the Kremlin critic's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and other groups related to Navalny as extremist.
All of those offices have now closed and the designation bars people associated with the groups from seeking public office, while also exposing them to lengthy prison terms.
The September 17-19 elections are crucial not only for cementing United Russia’s grip on the country’s political life. They’re also key to any constitutional maneuvering that the Kremlin might undertake in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, when President Vladimir Putin may seek a fifth term.
Navalny, Putin's most vocal domestic critic, is serving a 2 1/2-year jail sentence for parole violations he says were trumped up. His jailing has strained Russia's relations with the West, which has demanded that he be freed and has criticized the extremist designation.
"The Kremlin has launched a war against the freedom to disseminate information. Putin is doing everything possible to ensure that no one gets to the recommendations of the Smart Voting [app]," Volkov wrote.