NOTE (3 April): Two days later, Durov un-resigned. The plot thickens…
Pavel Durov, the founder of the Russian social network VKontakte, or VK, has resigned as chief executive after a seven-year tenure, claiming he was no longer able to defend the network’s founding principles.
Having already given the finger to Russia’s authorities over censorship requests in 2011, Durov was accused of driving over a traffic cop’s foot. VK’s offices were raided and Durov disappeared for a few months. Around the time of the raid, in April 2013, two of his founders sold 48 percent of VK to United Capital Partners (UCP), a fund run by Ilya Sherbovich, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and board member at state oil company Rosneft.
Durov sold his 12 percent stake in VK, estimated at a value of $420 million, to MegaFon chief Ivan Tavrin. Megafon is co-owned by Russia’s richest oligarch, Putin ally Alisher Usmanov. The remaining 40 percent of VK belonged to the Mail.ru group, co-owned by … Alisher Usmanov. Then Tavrin sold the 12 percent stake to Mail.ru, consolidating Usmanov’s control over VK.
In other words, VK, the site that once resisted Kremlin censorship, is now significantly more Kremlin-friendly. On top of all this, UCP clashed with Durov, accusing him of misusing company resources to launch the Berlin-based secure messaging firm that he funds, Telegram.
When Durov gave up his stake in January, he insisted that he was “not going anywhere and will continue to watch over the quality of VKontakte.”
However, in a VK post (in Russian) on Tuesday, Durov said he was leaving the top spot because, in the wake of the Sherbovich sale, “it has become increasingly complicated to stick to the principles we once founded our social site upon.” He wasn’t much more specific than that, other than to say he would hang around in some capacity as VK’s founder, but he wouldn’t hold a formal position any longer.
According to TechCrunch, Durov had been under pressure to nix the VK pages of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny and his supporters. Navalny’s LiveJournal blog was banned in March as part of a wider crackdown on independent media.
This picture accompanied Durov’s post:
This article was updated at 10am PT to note the apparent link between Durov’s resignation and new state censorship requests.