Sham referendums in Ukraine see Apple pull major Russian apps

The Russian government’s decision to hold fake referendums in Ukraine has prompted Apple to pull a number of major apps in response to new sanctions.

Popular Russian apps removed from the App Store worldwide include Mail.ru and Facebook competitor VK. The latter is one of the apps that the Russian government previously required Apple to show to iPhone users in the country during the initial setup process…

Sham referendums in Ukraine

Russia’s latest attempt to justify its invasion of Ukraine is a series of alleged referendums in four occupied regions of the country: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

The fake referendums involved soldiers going door-to-door to collect votes, as well as transparent ballot boxes where the votes appear to be visible. Further polling took place in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula of suspected ‘refugees’ from the four regions. Crimea was annexed by Russia back in 2014 and a fake referendum was also used in an attempt to justify the occupation.

It is painfully obvious that the votes are meaningless and no one is free to vote no, so it is no surprise that Putin claims almost total support for the regions becoming part of Russia.

News agencies run by the pro-Kremlin administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk report that up to 99.23% of the population voted to join Russia – a high percentage that would be unusual in a vote of this nature.

There is speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin may announce the four regions’ annexation in a speech to a joint session of Russia’s parliament on Friday.

Al Jazeera reported that Russia even hired actors for the fake vote in Crimea, and it likely used similar tactics here.

There are now concerns that the false results could be used to justify even more aggressive action by invading forces.

If Russia annexes the four regions that Moscow does not fully control, it could take the war to a new and more dangerous level, with Moscow portraying any attempt by Ukraine to reclaim them as an attack on its sovereign territory.

One fear expressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is that citizens of the occupied regions could be forced into the Russian army to fight against their own country.

Apple pulls major Russian apps

The British government has responded to the fake referendums by imposing further sanctions on Russia. These include 23 executives from Gazprombank, a Russian bank that financed the invasion.

Some of the same executives are closely associated with Internet giant VK, whose apps include the social network of the same name, as well as Mail.ru and VK Music.

The edge reports that Apple has removed all of VK’s apps from the App Store and closed the company’s developer accounts.

Apple has removed iOS apps belonging to VK, the tech conglomerate behind Russia’s version of Facebook called VKontakte, from its App Store globally. In a translated statement on its website, VK said its apps “have been blocked by Apple” but that it will “continue to develop and support iOS applications.”

Apple confirmed the move.

These apps are distributed by developers who are majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government. To comply with these sanctions, Apple has terminated developer accounts associated with these apps, and apps cannot be downloaded from any App Store, regardless of location. Users who have already downloaded these apps can continue using them.

Photo: Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera

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