Russia blocks Navalny-linked voting website

FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures as he stands in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Navalny marked the anniversary of a poisoning attack against him on Friday, Aug. 20 by urging global leaders to step up fight against corruption and target tycoons close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, file) (Alexander Zemlianichenko, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MOSCOW – Russian authorities on Monday blocked access to a website affiliated with imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny that advises voters on how to undermine the dominant pro-Kremlin party in this month’s parliamentary election.

The move by state communications overseer Roskomnadzor continues months of efforts to neutralize Navalny and his supporters.

In June, a Russian court outlawed Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of his regional offices as extremist organizations. The ruling barred people associated with the groups from seeking public office and exposed them to lengthy prison terms.

Roskomnadzor said it blocked the Smart Voting website “because it is being used to continue the activities and holding events of an extremist organization.”

The website, developed by Navalny's team in 2018, aims to identify candidates who are in the strongest position in the Sept. 19 election to defeat candidates from United Russia, the party that dominates the parliament and is President Vladimir Putin’s power base.

Smart Voting also is available on apps, but Roskomnadzor last week warned Google and Apple they could face fines if they didn't remove the apps from their stores.

The election is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before Russia’s 2024 presidential vote. The Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through a constitutional reform last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.

The 45-year-old Navalny is Putin’s most determined political foe. He was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation rejected by Russian officials.

In February, Navalny was ordered to serve 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.