On Monday, the online wallet service Yandex.Money announced that it would stop allowing online transfers of money to individuals for political purposes in order to comply with Russian election laws—a decision many see as aimed at undermining opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is using the service to crowdfund his 2018 presidential campaign.
In a blog post published on Monday afternoon, Navalny drew attention to an email sent on Jan. 20 from Yandex.Money to Leonid Volkov, his campaign manager and the man in whose name Navalny's Yandex.Money account is registered. In the email, Yandex warned that funneling political funding through individuals could violate Russia's election laws.
Writing online, Navalny described a campaign of harassment by state bodies aimed at undermining his ability to raise campaign funds:
История моего сбора средств на общественные и политические проекты — это и история о том, как ФСБ, МВД, администрация президента, ЦБ и прочее жульё пытается запретить в России сбор средств на такие проекты.
The history of my collection of funds for civil and political projects—it's a history of how the FSB [Federal Security Services], the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs], the president, the Central Bank, and other swindlers have tried to ban the collection of funds for these projects in Russia.
Yandex.Money, the opposition leader argued, is being forced by the Central Bank to block donations to Volkov's account by any means possible, in order to handicap Navalny's 2018 presidential bid.
Speaking to the website TJournal, Yandex.Money's press service said that Russian law requires them “to limit the use of electronic wallets in ways that might be considered legally ambiguous,” otherwise the company could be assuming certain legal risks. Yandex says it must work to minimize the risks to itself and its millions of users:
Мы приняли решение изменить условия пользовательского соглашения и внести пункт, ограничивающий сбор средств на кошелек в политических целях. Это ограничение — стандарт для рынка электронных платежей.
Изменения будут размещены на сайте в ближайшие дни. С момента публикации это требование вступит в силу. Несогласие с изменением оферты, согласно п.12.4, означает отказ от использования кошелька.
При этом фонд-юрлицо по-прежнему может использовать «Яндекс.Кассу» для сбора пожертвований от частных лиц в любых объёмах.
We made the decision to change the conditions of our user agreement, introducing a clause that limits the collection of funds for political purposes. This limitation is the standard for the electronic payment market.
The changes will be posted on our site in the coming days. Once they are published, they will enter into force. Refusal to accept the changes in clause 12.4 will mean no longer being able to use the wallet.
Legal entities, however, will still be able to use Yandex.Kassa to receive money from private individuals in any amount.
Losing the opportunity to raise money through his campaign manager, Navalny will still in theory be able to collect donations through his nonprofit organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, using another service: Yandex.Kassa. Unfortunately for the campaign, however, the group is not registered in Russia as a political organization, barring it from a role in Navalny's political campaign, Volkov told TJournal.
Once Yandex's new policy goes into effect, the only way left to send money to Navalny's presidential campaign will be over PayPal, where supporters of any nationality, anywhere in the world, can wire Volkov money directly. Currently, there are no indications that PayPal, a California-based tech company, has any plans to restrict the services it now offers in Russia.