Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte.com, one of Russia’s biggest social media networks, has reported that he has been fired and that Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s allies have now taken control of his company.
Noting that Russia has become a land ” incompatible with internet business,” Durov said in a statement that he was not even told of his ouster by the company but instead found out about it from reports in the media.
“Today I was fired as general director of VKontakte. It’s interesting that the shareholders didn’t have the bravery to do this directly, and that I learned about my firing from the press,” Durov said.
“Today VKontakte goes under the complete control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov. Probably, in the Russian context, something like this was inevitable, but I’m happy we lasted seven and a half years. We did a lot. And part of what’s been done can’t be turned back,” he continued.
Igor Sechin is a close associate of Vladimir Putin having once been Putin’s deputy chief of staff. He is also the CEO of state-owned oil company, Rosneft.
Usamaov is the largest shareholder in VKontakte through his Internet company, Mail.ru.
The two Putin allies claim they acted on a resignation letter Durov publicized on April Fool’s Day, but Durov later said it was all an Internet hoax.
Durov has now left Russia and says he has no immediate plans to return.
Of his former company, Durov told TechCrunch, “I’m afraid there is no going back, not after I publicly refused to co-operate with the authorities. They can’t stand me.”
What apparently drew Putin’s ire was the fact that VK.com had become an important tool of those organizing to resist oppression in both Russia and Ukraine.
Additionally, Durov had been resisting Putin’s efforts to censor the posts on VK.com and to block accounts of those users who opposed Russian aggression.
“I have a clean conscience and ideals that I am willing to defend,” Durov has said.
In light of NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s questioning of Russia’s own surveillance state, this move against VK.com seems to belie Putin’s claims that his nation “follows the law” and doesn’t spy on its own citizenry or other wise oppress free expression.
It seems easily dismissed that Putin’s government doesn’t spy on Russians. Eli Lake noted that Putin has more power than even the US to spy on his own people. “The FSB,” Lake said, “has far more power to eavesdrop on Russian and foreign citizens than the FBI or the NSA. In practice, according to Soldatov, the FSB has a back door into every server belonging to Russia’s telecom companies and Internet service provider.”
This all certainly sheds more light on Putin’s take over of VK.com.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org