October 2, 2022

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Russian internet giant Yandex is selling its homepage and news feed to its Kremlin-controlled rival

Russian search giant Yandex has completed the sale of its two flagship media properties to local rival VK, owner of the state-controlled social network of the same name.

Russian internet giant Yandex has completed the sale of its news aggregator and website Yandex.ru to rival VK, which is controlled by the Kremlin. The move, experts say, will deal another blow to Russians’ access to independent media.

Following the August 23 deal, Yandex is thus ceding full control over online content distribution to VK, whose owner, Sogaz, is controlled by a longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Radio Free Europe reports.

But in return, Yandex will acquire 100% of the food delivery service Delivery Club, which is owned by VK. This transaction was originally announced in April.

The voice of Russia’s independent media silenced by the Kremlin

Yandex’s board and management have concluded that the interests of the company’s stakeholders… are best served by continuing to strategically exit its media businesses and shift to focus on other technologies and services“, Yandex said in a statement.

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Following the completion of the transaction, the current main page with News and Zen will be renamed dzen.ru and will continue to be developed and controlled by VK (including control over appearance, content, etc.)“, the statement also states.

Russia’s independent press has been slapped in the face by the Kremlin regime since Moscow decided to invade Ukraine in February. Thus, Russia’s leadership has decided to pass a law banning what it calls “false information” about its military and stifling the ability of many media outlets to broadcast uncensored news.

Who is Putin’s friend who now owns Yandex

Yury Kovalchuk, whom Putin has publicly called a personal friend, indirectly controls a 32 percent stake in Sogaz with his wife, making the couple the insurer’s largest shareholder. In December, Sogaz bought a controlling stake in VK for an undisclosed amount.

Kovalchuk is considered by some Kremlin observers to be the most influential person in Putin’s entourage. He was sanctioned by the United States in 2014.

Since Putin came to power in late 1999, Kovalchuk has seized large portions of Russia’s media industry, including more than a dozen television stations, which he has used to shore up support for his patron, notes the quoted source.

Yandex, a regular target of government pressure

One of the nation’s key media assets not under Kovalchuk’s control was Yandex, often called the “Google of Russia.” The internet company’s news aggregator has become a key source of information for many Russians as they move away from television news.

This, in part, has made Yandex a regular target of government pressure.

Earlier this summer, Yandex chose to erase national borders from its Maps app in an attempt to sidestep political pressure over where the software drew borders in Ukraine.

Several Yandex executives have also been sanctioned by the European Union, although the company itself has so far avoided official sanctions.

Moreover, Lev Gershenzon, one of the former heads of Yandex News, described Yandex on March 1 as a key element in hiding information about the conflict in Ukraine. Yandex later denied that it was complicit in the censorship.

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