When the going gets tough…

On April 1, Pavel Durov posted on “his” VKontakte, Russia's largest social network, a statement announcing his departure from the General director office. What could seem an April Fools’ Day joke is the sign of great maneuvers affecting the media system in Russia.

Durov, 29 years old, who is often referred as “the Russian Zuckerberg”, is an internet tycoon who likes to throw 500 rubles banknotes from the window of his office in Saint Petersburg, just to watch how it looks like. "It is becoming harder and harder to defend the principles that once underlay our social network", he wrote on the message, ““The general director's freedom to manage the company has decreased significantly in recent times. I am grateful to all users who supported and inspired me over the past seven years. I will continue to partake in the future of VKontakte as its co-founder, but I have no interest in any formal office given the new situation. I resign as Acting Director General of VKontakte". Despite the day chosen to publish the statement, “Unfortunately, it’s not a joke,” spokesperson George Lobushkin twitted in the evening.

Blocked in Italy
With more than 240 million of active accounts in Russia and in the neighboring ex-Soviet Union countries, VKontakte is the most popular social network in the Russian-speaking world with a 40 percent of the social network market share, largely surpassing Facebook, stuck at 25 percent. But differently from Facebook, to which it is always compared also because of the layout similarities, it is a less restricted world with almost no rules and control over the uploaded material. Indeed, it cannot be reached from Italy since the Public Prosecutor of Rome issued an order for all local Internet service providers to block vKontakte after a request of movie company Medusa Film for hosting a pirate copy of its blockbuster film “Sole a Catinelle”.

A matter of Time
The decision of Durov has nothing to do with copyrighted material and comes after a year of tensions with other shareholders of the company, which has an estimated value of $ 2,8 billions. Things changed when the investment group United Capital Partners bought 48% of the company in November. UCP is a fund led by Ilja Sherbovich, close to President Putin and member of the board of directors of Rosneft. After two months, Durov himself ceded his 12% to the CEO of the mobile telephone company Megafon, owned by the oligarch Alysher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man. In addition, recently Durov came under strong pressure to shut down pages related the Ukrainian activists of Euromaidan and to the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. According to many analysts, having sold his shares, Durov’s quitting was only a matter of time.

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