With the coming of spring, so also will there be another Russian Presidential election in 2018, more specifically on 18 March. As some counterparties are being labeled "undesirable organizations" daring to criticize the glorious Russian President Vladimir Putin who’s up for re-election (which he’s predicted to win easily), the Kremlin has given Twitter and Youtube a choice: remove all content of “Open Russia”, an NGO sponsored by tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, or risk being banned.
The Mikhail Khodorkovsky - Vladimir Putin rivalry goes way back. Seen by many as the one who could defeat the Russian president in the past due to his money and influential address book, Mr Khodorkovsky was jailed by Putin and stripped of his political ambitions. He did, however, start the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Open Russia aimed at spreading ‘democracy in Russia.’
This week, right after current President had announced his bid for re-election, the Russian government shut down Open Russia's website. And now it goes one step further, demanding that the NGO's presence on social media (mostly held by US companies) be deleted as well.
Therefore Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin’s media regulatory agency, called on Twitter and Google-subsidiary YouTube to delete any Open Russia's accounts on their sites. The official statement said the NGO was performing "activities are aimed at inciting protests and destabilizing the domestic political situation, presenting a threat to Russia's constitutional foundations and the security of the state."
Russian IT Expert Mr Sergey Nikitin says it is normal procedure for Russia to clamp down on the internet in the months before an election but warns that this time it might be more difficult as people have gotten tech-savvy. Mr Nikitin stated that should the Kremlin shut down the popular sites, citizens will probably use technical aids to circumvent this: "Proxy servers, VPNs, and other anonymization tools are among them."
"They have declared about seven VPNs illegal but there are tens of thousands of them to be found online. Both the Tor and Opera browsers allow you to get around such blocks."