The company Yandex gives in to the enormous censorship pressure in Russia and abandons its web portal yandex.ru. Yandex News and the Zen recommendation service are also being divested.
VKontakte takes over services loyal to the state
Yandex has already been facing growing censorship pressure for some time. For example, the company has only been allowed to display news approved by the Kremlin in its news division since 2017. In 2019, Yandex also had to grant the Russian state a stake in the company that comes with enormous influence on its operations: since then, the state has had two seats on the board of directors, the right to veto all company decisions, and the right to fire the company’s management.
For Yandex, all this seems to have been no longer sustainable. Thus, the company has now decided to hand over the aforementioned services to VKontakte, which has been under the control of oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who is loyal to Putin, since 2014. In response, Yandex said its board of directors and management had “concluded that the interests of shareholders are best served by an exit strategy from the media business (with the exception of entertainment streaming) and focus on other technology and services […].”
Levy partially decided as early as April
The divestment of Yandex News and Zen was already decided in April. These two services most obviously serve the state’s control efforts: while Yandex News controls what news gets out to the public, Zen tracks users’ movement patterns and browsing histories to create personalized recommendations – with the data, of course, also useful to the regime in its surveillance and control efforts.
The news that the web portal yandex.ru will also be handed over is new. Not affected, however, is the company’s search engine, which will henceforth be accessible under the URL ya.ru. The e-mail service as well as other Yandex offerings will also be accessible at the aforementioned address in the future.
Yandex is not giving up its two services completely without consideration. In return, the company will receive the Delivery Club delivery service from VKontakte.
Kremlin still has to approve takeover
The sale of the company’s divisions to VKontakte is not yet in the bag, however. The Kremlin still has to approve the mutual takeovers of divisions. The necessary process is likely to take several months. Approval is very likely, since there is no opposition on the supervisory board, which includes two state officials – and the takeover will lead to even greater state control in the media sector. It is precisely this control that Russia has been increasingly working toward recently; most recently, there have been rumors that Russia wants to cut itself off from the free Internet.