The Russian State Department has called in US Ambassador John Sullivan to complain about alleged interference by “American digital giants” in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Russia.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed on Friday that Russia “has irrefutable evidence of US digital giants violating Russian legislation in connection with the preparation and conduct of State Duma elections”.
The statement said that during the meeting with Sullivan, Ryabkov expressed the “categorical inadmissibility of meddling in the internal affairs of our country”.
The statement did not provide details of the complaint, but Russian authorities have pressured Google and Apple to remove apps belonging to the smart voting initiative developed by the team led by incarcerated opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The aim of the program is to advise voters which candidates are best suited to defeat the candidates of the parliamentary party “United Russia” in the elections on September 19th.
A US State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said the meeting covered a “range of bilateral matters” to support President Biden’s “desire for a stable and predictable relationship with Russia.”
The issue of electoral interference was not mentioned, however, leading to a reply from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Sakharova.
“There is a reason – to meddle in the Russian elections. We hope that American diplomats will report this to Washington, ”said Zakharova in the Telegram messaging app.
US-based internet companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, have recently received a series of fines for failing to delete content requested by Russia’s media watchdog and failing to store Russian users’ data on domestic servers.
After protests in support of the imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in January, the authorities accused Internet platforms of interfering in internal affairs by not deleting posts calling on minors to participate in the rallies.
Vladimir Putin earlier this month complained about the growing influence of large tech companies that, according to the Russian president, are competing with states.
Almost all vociferous Kremlin critics, including Navalny’s allies, are banned from voting in parliamentary elections this month.
Navalny, 45, who is behind bars on old fraud allegations, saw his organizations banned this year and his top workers have fled the country.
Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor asked Google and Apple to remove an app for Navalny’s smart voting campaign from their app stores, but they have not yet responded.
The smart voting tactic has resulted in the increasingly unpopular United Russia party, currently scoring less than 30%, losing a number of seats in the recent local elections.
Many Western leaders, including Biden, have called for the freedom for Navalny, who spent months recovering in Germany from a near-fatal poisoning attack he attributes to the Kremlin.
The US has also blamed Russia for meddling in their elections and for large-scale cyberattacks, which further weighs on bilateral relations.
In response, Moscow has accused the West of interfering in its internal affairs and discriminating against its media.