Published on :
The Russian government-run company Gazprom has become the majority shareholder of Vkontakte, the country’s most popular social network. This recovery is part of the Kremlin’s desire to establish a sovereign and controlled Russian Internet.
Founded in 2006 by Pavel Durov, who is also the designer of Telegram encrypted messaging, Vkontakte had long been in the sights of the Kremlin. The case dates back, in fact, to the creation of the platform when the social network was already struggling to maintain its independence vis-à-vis the Moscow authorities. In December 2013, government pressure intensified, especially when the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, demanded that the young founder give him the group’s personal data. Euromaïdan, who organized the pro-European protest in Ukraine on the web.
Pavel Durov, Russian internet star
In 2014, the founder of Vkontakte was forced to resign from his board of directors after publishing the copy of the FSB’s injunctions as well as the list of names requested by the secret services. ” Passing on this data would have been against the law, a betrayal of the millions of Ukrainians who trusted us », Wrote Pavel Durov at the time. Words that then forced him to leave the country without ever coming back. He had since divided his time between London, Dubai and Paris. He indeed obtained French nationality last August.
Vkontakte claims more than 100 million users and is the leading social network in Russia. In recent years, the rapidly growing social network has aroused the appetites of private investors. But that was without counting on Moscow’s desire to place the platform directly under its control.
Through the Gazprom companies and through its subsidiaries such as SoGaz which is owned by a long-time friend of the Russian president and Gazprom Media, the media branch of the parent company, the Kremlin thus obtains more than 50% of the rights vote on the board of directors of the Russian social network.
A transaction with little economic value
Opponents of Vladimir Putin believe that this transaction makes Vkontakte a state enterprise. This transaction does not have a great economic value, however, as the two Gazprom companies will receive less than 5% of future profits. This digital arsenal of influence with Gazprom-Media already consists of 38 televisions and ten radio stations. With the VK group, the Kremlin now has several social networks including VKontakte, Mail.ru messaging, as well as video game platforms, online transport, payment and delivery services.
As the opposition denounces an attempt to control the political debate and stifle criticism in the press and on the web against the regime, the Russian authorities are putting the finishing touches on another great project: that of an Internet network that will be completely independent from the rest of the world and able to operate independently.