VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, has been transferred to the state. Billionaire Alisher Usmanov has sold his stake in Internet holding UK to the state-owned Gazprombank and insurance company Sogaz. The latter is controlled by Putin ally Yuri Kovalchuk and his family. In addition to VKontakte, VK also includes Odnoklassniki, another social network. The head of VK would be Vladimir Kiriyenko. He is the son of top Kremlin official Sergei Kiriyenko.
After completion of the sale, Sogaz and Gazprombank will each own 45 percent of MF Technologies. The latter in turn owns 57.3% of voting shares in UK. The State defense company Rostec owns the remaining 10 percent of MF Technologies.
The deal does give the state much more control over the social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. It is less clear what plans the new owners have. VKontakte has about 100 million users and is often called the Russian answer on Facebook.
It is speculated that VK could be used as a platform to build a Russian equivalent of YouTube. In this way the western video service would want to compete away.
“The ratings of different platforms showed clearly how foreign platforms gained popularity and VKontakte is losing ground,” said a source close to the sales negotiations. “For political reasons, the state did not want Vkontakte to lose contact with a Russian audience.”
Boris Dobrodeyev, the current head of UK, announced his departure on Friday. He is replaced by Vladimir Kiriyenko. He’s still vice president of the state telecommunications giant Rostelekom today. On Friday, he was reportedly introduced to UK executives as the new CEO. Vladimir Kiriyenko is the son of Sergei Kiriyenko. The latter is the powerful deputy head of the presidential administration who ‘oversees’domestic politics for Putin.
If the fate of VK is unclear, it is understandable that Usmanov – who became owner of VKontakte in 2008 – wanted to get rid of it. Not only was the social network a political headache, but Usmanov also seems “tired” of internet Affairs. Because compared to its activities in the mining and metals sector, they were barely profitable.