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Russia accuses YouTube of interfering in its sovereign affairs

Moscow says US-based firm has spread information about unsanctioned protests

WT24 Desk

Russia has accused YouTube of spreading information on unsanctioned opposition protests, calling recent push notifications from the US-based company interference in Russia’s sovereign affairs, The Guardian reports.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, said on Sunday that it had sent a letter to Google, YouTube’s parent company, complaining that users had received push notifications “sharing information about unsanctioned mass events, including those aimed at disrupting elections.” Unsanctioned effectively means illegal.

The statement came a day after Russia’s opposition held its largest demonstration in years, when 50,000 people rallied in Moscow to call for fair elections to the city council. Opposition candidates have been systematically disqualified from the race.

The rally was sanctioned by the government, but more than 130 people were later detained by riot police as they moved toward Russia’s presidential administration.

It was the third successive demonstration in Moscow to end in mass arrests. More than 1,000 protesters were detained following unsanctioned rallies on 27 July and 3 August.

Russia also detained 13 people on charges of fomenting mass disorder at the 27 July protest, a charge that can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

A suspect in the case, Dmitry Vasilyev, who is diabetic, was reported to be in intensive care after being deprived of his insulin during an all-night interrogation. His lawyer told the Russian-language outlet MBKh media that a medic had said Vasilyev had such low blood sugar levels that he may have suffered brain damage.

As protests have mushroomed in the last month, Russian officials have accused foreign agents of stirring up the discord.

The foreign ministry summoned the deputy head of the US embassy last week because its website had shared a map of the 3 August protest calling on US citizens to avoid the area. The ministry said it viewed “the publishing of the illegal event’s scheme, which was prepared by the organisers, as an invitation to join the event and a call for action.”

A senior German diplomat was also summoned because the Deutsche Welle news agency had allegedly supported the rallies on social media. The news agency has rejected the claim.

Mirroring US inquiries about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, Russia’s parliament is planning to hold hearings this week about foreign interference in Russian elections.

Roskomnadzor did not threaten specific measures against Google, but said Russia would have the right to retaliate if the company did not halt the push notifications and other advertising.

It is the first time that Russia has rebuked Google over this issue. Roskomnadzor has previously fined it thousands of pounds for failing to filter sites banned by the government from its search results.

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