A Russian billboard that directs people to anti-Putin websites
Image: SOTA via Telegram

Russian opposition activists use QR codes to spread anti-Putin messages

Opposition activists in Russia launched a campaign against President Vladimir Putin this week, using cleverly-placed QR codes to direct people to subversive websites.

QR codes placed on seemingly innocent billboards in Russia’s largest cities led to the website “Russia without Putin,” launched by associates of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The billboards were designed to not look political: they featured phrases such as “Happy New Year, Russia” and “Russia, everything will definitely work out.”

A representative from a Russian outdoor advertising company said that initially, the QR code on the billboards led users to a website for a creative competition in Russia but was later redirected by activists to the “Russia without Putin” website.

The goal of Navalny’s campaign, according to the website, is to encourage Russians to vote for anyone but Putin during the upcoming election in March. Billboards with QR codes are just one of many ways opposition activists are trying to fight the current regime.

Russian media reported that local authorities in St. Petersburg and Moscow have already removed some of the banners with anti-Putin QR codes. It is not clear how many people saw them and what was the impact of the campaign.

Given that open anti-regime rallies and demonstrations are banned in Russia, Navalny's team encourages those opposed to Putin to use digital tools against him.

For example, they created a Telegram bot that shares daily anti-Putin content, which internet users can then post on other social networks.

It's unclear how it will play out, given that Russia is known for punishing those who share content online that is deemed harmful to the regime.

Navalny's team said that during the March elections, Putin will likely falsify voting results, “but our goal is to make it evident to everyone that Russia no longer needs Putin,” their statement said.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.