Russia threatens to block YouTube and Instagram over political spat

14 Feb 2018

Moscow. Image: mzabarovsky/Shutterstock

A dispute between one of Russia’s richest businessmen and an opposition leader could mean no access to YouTube and Instagram for the country’s citizens.

The Russian government has threatened to block access to Instagram and YouTube in the country, after videos surfaced on both platforms showing a senior government official spending time on a yacht with an oligarch in apparently corrupt secret meetings.

The wealthy oligarch in question, Oleg Deripaska, was seen in the videos sailing his yacht around Norway, with Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko also on board the vessel.

According to The New York Times, opposition leader and activist against government corruption Alexei Navalny published an investigation into Deripaska, a billionaire who made his money in the aluminium and mining industries.

He alleged that Deripaska was feeding Prikhodo information regarding the 2016 US presidential election. It is said that Deripaska was previously close to former Trump campaign lead, Paul Manafort.

Videos surface on blogger’s accounts

The videos in question are from the social media accounts of blogger Anastasia Vashukevich, who posted the videos of Deripaska and Prikhodko on the yacht. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation posted a video last Thursday (8 February) presenting the footage that allegedly showed both men meeting.

Navalny also uploaded a photo of the apparent secret meeting to his own Instagram account.

Soon after, Deripaska hit Navalny with a court order for the removal of 14 Instagram posts and seven YouTube videos. Navalny has refused to take down the content from either platform.

A warning to YouTube and Instagram

Russia’s governmental internet watchdog, Roskomnadzor, issued both platforms a notice, giving them three business days to remove the content. If a decision is not reached by the end of today (14 February), Russian internet service providers (ISPs) must take action themselves.

As ISPs in Russia cannot censor specific posts, this could result in a total blockage of YouTube and Instagram in the country.

Russia’s most well-known opposition figure, Navalny has been forbidden from standing against Putin in an upcoming March election. He alleges a corruption conviction against him was fabricated to keep him out of the running.

Navalny said: “It wasn’t me who took bribes from an oligarch in the form of aeroplane flights and expensive cruises, but the singular, lightning-fast attack of the government is directed against me and my foundation, who exposed the corruption.

“This is a war of our dissemination against their blockage. And it’s one we have to win.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects