Yandex, the “Russian Google”, announced on Tuesday that it was selling its media activities to the owner of Russia’s largest social network, VK, a measure that risks tightening control of information in the midst of a military offensive in Ukraine.
Yandex “has reached an agreement with the VK group, one of the largest social networks, which provides for the sale to VK of its +news+ and +Zen+ platforms”, as well as the domain name of its homepage, according to a press release from the group.
VK Group, owner of VKontakte, the “Russian Facebook”, confirmed in a statement that it will become the owner of Yandex news platforms.
As part of this transaction, which must be finalized by 2023, VK must transfer in exchange to Yandex all the shares of the food delivery service Delivery Club.
This agreement will considerably strengthen the weight in the information landscape of VK, a group led by Vladimir Kirienko, son of Sergei Kirienko, member of the presidential administration and close to Vladimir Putin.
Owner of the first search portal in the Russian-speaking area, where the group is also omnipresent in the field of taxis and food deliveries, Yandex is registered in the Netherlands and has European, British and American subsidiaries.
Yandex’s decision to divest its media assets to VK comes amid criticism of the group for its alleged role in censorship and propaganda accompanying Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Yandex’s “news” page thus filters publications containing the word “war”, banned by the Russian media regulator which imposes the term “special military operation”.
In June, the co-founder and CEO of Yandex, Arkadi Voloj, had resigned from the management of the group, after being individually sanctioned by the European Union. To date, however, Yandex has not been targeted as an organization.
Faced with the risk of sanctions, Yandex therefore believes that its interests “are best served by carrying out a strategic withdrawal from its media activities”, according to the press release.