A voting app run by supporters of prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny is once again available for download on Apple’s Russian App Store, The Washington Post reports, citing independent researchers and Navalny’s chief of stall Leonid Volkov. Both Apple and Google removed the app last year after the Kremlin threatened to criminally prosecute company employees in the country.
The “Smart Voting” app contains over a thousand endorsements of Russian political candidates, WaPo notes, with the idea being to help citizens consolidate votes against the ruling United Russia party, which has Vladimir Putin as its de facto leader. Pressure to remove the app came ahead of Russia’s legislative election in September. WaPo reports that Google restored the app shortly after the election.
Apple halted product sales in Russia at the beginning of March
Apple did not respond to a request for comment from The Verge, and it’s unclear exactly what prompted it to restore the app. The company has also been criticized for removing protest and media apps in China at the government’s request.
The decision to restore the app comes as Apple and other companies have taken steps away from the Russian market, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Apple said it was halting all product sales in Russia at the start of March, while chief competitor Samsung has also stopped shipments to the country. But even companies that want to sell phones in Russia have struggled. The Financial Times reported last month that Chinese smartphone vendors have slashed their shipments to Russia, as the collapse in the value of the rouble has made it hard to sell phones in the country without making a loss.
Activists have argued that it’s important for western companies to continue to allow software to be distributed in Russia, because it can provide the country’s citizens with important information and ways around government censorship. Websites have made similar attempts to ensure their content continues to be available in Russia. In the wake of the invasion, the BBC promoted and Twitter launched versions of their sites designed for the censorship-resistant Tor browser.