Google pulls video ad by Russian opposition leader ahead of vote

Tim Maytom

Google removed YouTube adverts by Alexei Navalny, leader of Russia's main opposition party, after authorities complained that the videos violated an election silence law in place for Sunday's vote for regional governors in the country.

The series of videos featured Navalny inviting Russians to join demonstrations on Sunday over controversial reforms to Russian pensions. Navalny is expected to be defeated by Sergei Sobyanin, former chief-of-staff to President Putin, in the race for Moscow's mayorship, and spent the jail for organising another unsanctioned protest earlier this year.

According to Leonid Volkov, an aide to Navalny, Google deleted the videos after the Central Election Commission sent a letter of complaint to Google about the adverts - a demand that Volkov called illegal. Google's Russia office said that "we consider all justified appeals from state bodies. We also require advertisers to act in accordance with the local law and our advertising policies."

Alongside the election of Moscow's mayor, the governorships of 25 of Russia's 85 regions are on the ballots across the nation. Although Putin's United Russia party are expected to win most races, proposed changes that would raise the retirement age in Russia have resulted in a significant dip in the polls for both the ruling party and Vladimir Putin himself, with one poll showing 66 per cent of voters disapprove of the current government.

Despite the banned advert, protestors were out in force on Sunday, with around 2,000 gathering at Pushkin Square in central Moscow. Earlier this month, nearly 10,000 assembled at a sanctioned Communist Party demonstration, while polling by the independent Levada Center found that 53 per cent of Russians were willing to take to the streets to protest the pension reforms.