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On Thursday, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration imposed sweeping sanctions on Russian banks, power and infrastructure corporations, and a variety of particular person Russian elites.

The US Division of the Treasury offered the complete listing in a press release, which divided sanctioned entities into two classes: “main Russian monetary establishments” and “elites and households near Putin.”

Among the many sanctioned people is Vladimir Kiriyenko, CEO of VK Group, the dad or mum firm of Russia’s largest social community VKontakte. Whereas he isn’t being sanctioned particularly for his work with the VK group, the outcome nonetheless forbids one of many nation’s strongest tech executives from doing enterprise with any US entity.

Although it doesn’t function on the worldwide scale of Fb, VK — initially often called VKontakte — is the dominant social media platform in Russia. It claims to have round 70 million month-to-month energetic customers, making it roughly 1 / 4 of the dimensions of Twitter; and the overwhelming majority of those accounts submit in Russian from inside Russian geographic borders.

Kiriyenko wasn’t a Vkontakte founder: the truth is, his affiliation with the corporate solely dates again to 2021. However his management of the corporate represents the ultimate twist in a saga that has seen the social community steered away from a platform dedicated to privateness and free expression, into one more likely to tow Putin’s social gathering line.

Vkontakte was created in 2006 by Pavel Durov, who was simply 22 years outdated on the time. Its speedy success — pushed by starvation for a homegrown different to Fb — earned Durov the nickname of “Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg.” However in 2014, Durov was pushed out of his place as CEO in a conspiracy-filled case that included disputed allegations of a hit-and-run incident involving a police officer, adopted by an tried hostile takeover by which an funding fund belonging to Ilya Sherbovich, a Russian businessman and Putin ally, secretly acquired 48 percent of the company.

Durov positioned the blame for his ouster squarely with the Russian authorities. “I’m afraid there isn’t a going again [to VK],” he told TechCrunch on the time, “not after I publicly refused to cooperate with the authorities. They’ll’t stand me.”

The entrepreneur subsequently fled Russia and commenced to deal with a brand new challenge: the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which he had launched in 2013. From the beginning, Telegram espoused a extra strong perspective to privateness and free expression, pushed by Durov’s expertise of censorship in Russia.

Durov first rejected requests from French authorities, and later pressure from Russia’s FSB security service, to place a “again door” into the encryption that may let governments listen in on encrypted messages. Russian telecoms corporations have been ordered to dam Telegram throughout the nation, however largely failed. The Russian authorities ultimately gave up in 2020, by which level it was already getting used as an official communication channel for a lot of authorities businesses. In neighboring Ukraine, it has loved related adoption as a software for each private and official communications.

In the meantime, management of VKontakte was taken up by Boris Dobrodeyev, previously the deputy chief government of the corporate. Dobrodeyev maintained the CEO place till 2021, when a restructure of dad or mum firm Mail.ru — the Russian digital companies supplier which owned the opposite 52 p.c of shares in Vkontakte — introduced all the firm below the VK model. Vladimir Kiriyenko was appointed the new CEO shortly afterward in December 2021, following Dobrodeyev’s resignation.

Kiriyenko, 38, has beforehand occupied a senior government place at Rostelecom, Russia’s nationwide telecommunications operator. Earlier than that, he held board chairman positions at a telecommunications firm, financial institution, and funding firm — a perform of his standing because the son of Sergei Kiriyenko, the previous prime minister of Russia below Boris Yeltsin, and now first deputy chief of employees within the Putin administration. (Sergei Kiriyenko additionally seems as a named particular person below the elite sanctions listing.)

Beneath the management of a regime insider like Vladimir Kiriyenko, it’s exhausting to think about that VK would host content material crucial of the Putin authorities, or take any of the stands for privateness that Durov’s Telegram has been prepared to undertake.

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