Apple bows to Kremlin pressure to remove leading VPNs from Russian AppStore

Apple has removed several apps offering virtual private network (VPN) services from the Russian AppStore, following a request from Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, independent news outlet Mediazona reported on Thursday.

The VPN services removed by Apple include leading services such as ProtonVPN, Red Shield VPN, NordVPN and Le VPN. Those living in Russia will no longer be able to download the services, while users who already have them on their phones can continue using them, but will be unable to update them.

Red Shield VPN posted a notice from Apple on X, which said that their app would be removed following a request from Roskomnadzor, “because it includes content that is illegal in Russia”.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Kremlin has introduced strict online censorship and has blocked numerous independent media outlets and popular social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and X.

As a result, anyone wanting to access blocked sites from Russia is forced to use a VPN, a protective tunnel that encrypts internet traffic and changes a user’s IP address.

VPN services have become progressively harder to access in Russia since a recent ban on “advertising and popularising VPNs” came into force, which includes banning web pages with instructions on how to set VPNs up.

Despite suspending all sales of its own products in Russia in March 2022, Apple has continued to comply with Russian government regulations and has deleted at least 19 apps from the Russian AppStore since 2023.

At Roskomnadzor’s request, in March Apple removed an app developed by late Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s team that was designed to help Russians choose who to vote for to maximise the impact of the anti-Putin vote, in a move that echoed the removal of another Navalny-designed app in 2021.

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