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Russia's Internet Leaders Have Lost Their Nerve

Published: June 19, 2014 (Issue # 1816)



  • Only Dmitry Grishin of Mail.Ru found the courage to raise the question of Internet regulation at a recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
    Photo: Mail.ru / Wikimedia Commons

The statements that President Vladimir Putin made at a recent meeting with leaders of the Russian Internet are hardly worth discussing. As usual, he offered only vague assurances of support for a variety of freedoms while pretending that all of the recent legislative initiatives tightening control over the Internet were designed exclusively to fight pedophiles, drugs, terrorism and suicide.

What is worth discussing is the position of the Internet industry leaders themselves. In the run-up to the meeting, many observers recalled the conversation that then-prime minister Putin held with Internet professionals on Dec. 29, 1999 — the first and only in that format in the past 15 years.

Over the course of those 15 years the Russian Internet has evolved into an industry doing more than 5 trillion rubles ($143 billion) in business annually, employing 1.3 million IT professionals, generating 8.5 percent of Russia's gross domestic product and accounting for 2.5 percent of all its trade. Almost every market is now connected in some way with the Internet. What's more, Russian companies have shown that they are able to dominate the domestic Internet market even after global corporations entered the fray.

However, the people invited to the meeting with Putin did not behave like the leaders of such a powerful industry.

Many had hoped that the meeting would provide a forum to discuss the disastrous impact that two years of state regulations have had on the Russian Internet. They also hoped industry leaders would present a united front to the president — who personally inflicted serious damage to the sector by publicly stating that the Internet is the brainchild of the CIA and by criticizing Russian Internet giants Yandex, Mail.ru and Qiwi, causing their stocks to plummet on the Nasdaq.

Instead, the subject of regulation was never even raised.

Even the recently passed and controversial law that tightens restrictions on blogs was only mentioned once.

That comment came from VKontakte deputy CEO Boris Dobrodeyev, who is himself hardly an opposition leader. Boris's father, Oleg, is head of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, a state media behemoth. Despite Boris having only worked at the social network since January, Mail.Ru Group — Russia's second-largest Internet company and owner of a 52 percent share in VKontakte — has already nominated him replace CEO Pavel Durov.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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