Russia Media Watchdog Accuses Google of "Interference" in Anti-Government Protests

MOSCOW, RUSSIA -A general view of Red square and Kremlin-Getty-H 2016
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Roskomnadzor claims YouTube videos advertising pro-democracy demonstrations "obstruct" Moscow city elections.

Russia's media watchdog has accused Google of interfering in the country's domestic politics and peddling "hostile influence [over] and obstruction of democratic elections" after YouTube advertised anti-government protests in Moscow.

Roskomnadzor has warned of sanctions if Google continues to push videos about the protests to subscribers.

The warning comes after the biggest protests in Moscow in years, when more than 50,000 people took to the streets to protest bans on opposition candidates in city elections next month.

Roskomnadzor had warned Google to stop advertising "illegal mass events" on its YouTube platform, even though Saturday's protest in Moscow — the latest in a series of weekend rallies — was authorized by city hall.

The protests — sparked after 15 opposition candidates were denied places on the ballot for the 45-seat Moscow city council election set for Sept. 8 — have grown into the biggest anti-government demonstrations Russia has seen in years. Over the past month, more than 2,000 people have been detained in Moscow, as have hundreds of others in cities around the country.

Roskomnadzor said some entities had been buying advertising tools from YouTube, including push notifications to spread news of the protests to subscribers. It did not specify to which entities it was referring.

Failure to respond to stop the advertisements could put Google on a collision course with Russian authorities who are claiming signs of "foreign influence" in the protests. It said that "interference in [Russia's] sovereign affairs" and "hostile influence [over] and obstruction of democratic elections in Russia" would not be tolerated.

Andrei Klimov, a member of Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, said this information was clearly inflammatory in nature and actually openly provoked people to violate the law.

The warning comes after the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was accused of meddling after it issued a warning to its citizens to stay away from the protests and provided a detailed map of where and when they would take place. Germany's international TV service DW has also been accused of promoting the protests on its social media platform.

On Sunday, of the top 10 trending videos on Russian YouTube, four were broadcasts of Saturday's rally and a later, unsanctioned "protest walk" when hundreds of mostly young people were arrested by riot police as they approached the Russian presidential administration building in Moscow. The videos were viewed more than three million times.

Google Russia declined to comment on Roskomnadzor's statement.