Russia summons US envoy over election interference

Filed on September 10, 2021
A pedestrian walks past a board informing of the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections in a street in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine. — Reuters

US embassy spokesman Jason Rebholz said the meeting covered a range of bilateral issues

Russia said on Friday it summoned the US ambassador in Moscow over the interference of US tech giants in parliamentary polls due later this month.

Moscow has ramped up control of the internet and is taking legal action against foreign tech companies for not deleting content banned by authorities.

The foreign ministry said ambassador John Sullivan was presented with “irrefutable proof” of US tech giants violating Russian laws in connection with the September 17-19 elections to the lower house State Duma.

It said deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov expressed the “categorical inadmissibility of interference in the domestic affairs of our country” during the meeting.

Speaking to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency, US embassy spokesman Jason Rebholz said the meeting covered a “range of bilateral issues” in support of US President Joe Biden’s “commitment to a stable, predictable relationship with Russia”.

The question of election interference, however, was not mentioned, prompting a riposte from the foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

“There is one reason — interference in Russian elections. We hope this is how American diplomats will report it to Washington,” Zakharova said on Telegram.

US-based internet companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, have recently faced a series of fines for failing to delete content requested by Russia’s media watchdog and for not storing the data of Russian users on domestic servers.

Following protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in January, authorities accused internet platforms of interfering in domestic affairs by not deleting posts calling for minors to join the rallies.

President Vladimir Putin that month complained about the growing influence of large technology companies, which he said were competing with states.

Nearly all vocal Kremlin critics, including Navalny’s allies, are barred from contesting this month’s parliamentary polls.

Navalny, 45, who is behind bars on old fraud charges, has this year seen his organisations banned and his top aides have fled the country.

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor said on Monday it blocked a website of Navalny which instructed Russians how to vote-out politicians of the ruling United Russia party.

The media regulator has also urged Google and Apple to remove an app dedicated to Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign from their app stores, but they have yet to respond.

The “Smart Voting” tactic has led the increasingly unpopular United Russia party, currently polling at less than 30 percent, to lose a number of seats in recent local elections.

Many Western leaders, including Biden, have demanded freedom for Navalny, who spent months in Germany recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack that he blames on the Kremlin.

The United States has also held Russia responsible for meddling in its elections and for large-scale cyberattacks, further straining bilateral ties.

In response, Moscow has accused the West of interference in its domestic affairs and of discriminating against its media.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday said the West has “practically declared war” on Russian media, citing examples of journalists being denied visas or accreditation abroad.

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