As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accuses Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, of sparking the protests that have rocked Russia over the last few days, his government is also attempting to stifle opposition voices in less public ways.
The Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s domestic security agency, has reportedly asked Russia’s most popular social network, VKontakte, to deactivate the accounts of groups that had called for protests, according to Russian news site RIA Novesti.
VKontakte refused. “We don’t do this on principle,” said Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov. “Vkontakte is a 100-percent apolitical company. We support neither the authorities nor the opposition, and no particular political party.”
The FSB request comes ahead of a planned protest Saturday, in which thousands of people are expected to gather at Revolution Square, next to the Kremlin. One tweeter from Russia, whose profile photo reads “This is not a protest. This is a process,” wrote Thursday: “Saturday, 14:00. Revolution Square. White ribbons. White flowers. White balloons.”
Ahead of the protest, Moscow police have reportedly begun asking for ID papers from people coming out of the metro.
Protests in Russia first heated up Monday, when thousands came out in the largest opposition rally the country has seen in years to protest an election they believe to be rigged. Putin’s United Russia party captured nearly 50 percent of the vote in the election.
At Tuesday’s protests, police arrested as many as 600 people who defied the country’s rally ban, including journalists.
Harvard Law’s Internet and Democracy blog reports that Russia also saw a seemingly coordinated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on leading Russia Web sites during the elections. The attacked sites included leading independent media, blogs, and election monitoring sites like Golos. The Russian government has not taken credit for the attacks, the blog reports.
“Russians are using the Internet to voice their concerns about the conduct of the recent election,” said Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of State. “Russian authorities should be investigating those concerns, not trying to stifle them.”
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