The Kremlin offers itself VKontakte, the “Russian Facebook”

The Kremlin is increasing its hold on Russian social networks. After a series of transactions, Gazprom, through its subsidiaries, obtained more than 50% of the voting rights in VKontakte – the “Russian Facebook”, with more than 100 million users worldwide – making , de facto, of the social network a state enterprise.

On Thursday, December 2, Russian billionaire Alicher Ousmanov sold 45% of his shares in the MF Technologies group, the company that controls VKontakte, to the insurance company Sogaz, a subsidiary of the state-owned oil giant Gazprom. At the same time, Gazprombank, the financial arm of the energy giant, increased its stake in the group from 36% to 45%, before entrusting its shares on Friday to Gazprom-Media, the media and communication branch of the parent company. The transaction does not have a great economic value, as the two Gazprom companies will receive less than 5% of the profits. It is above all a matter of making it a tool of influence. Gazprom-Media already owns 38 televisions and ten radio stations.

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VKontakte restera “An independent company”, Gazprom-Media assured Friday, without convincing. Very popular in Russian speaking countries, VKontakte was established in 2006 by Pavel Durov, also designer of Telegram protected messaging. This social network has always tried to escape the hands of power. In vain.

Infiltrated by the FSB

In 2011, already, VKontakte had to publish in the press an open letter entitled “VKontakte will remain independent” to reassure its users, after the arrival of new shareholders who were not the type to oppose the Kremlin’s requests. A year later, the intelligence services asked the site to block the accounts of the opponent Alexeï Navalny. At the time, the network was the main place of expression of the opposition and of organizing rallies.

As guarantor of the independence of his company, Pavel Dourov refused to give in to the injunctions of the FSB, which never let go. In 2013, the services demanded access to the accounts of Ukrainian activists engaged in pro-European demonstrations in Maidan Square in Kiev. Mr Durov then left the country in 2014, never to return. He acquired French nationality in August.

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Since the departure of its creator, VKontakte has kept the reputation of a completely infiltrated social network by the FSB. Despite the departure of some of the users to Facebook and a blocking of the application (bypassed en masse) in Ukraine, the social network has lost none of its power. More than half of the Russian population is said to be registered there.

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