Founder of Russia’s “Facebook” says he was ousted, Putin’s men in “complete control” of the site

Pavel Durov, former CEO of the popular social media site VKontakte, says he found out he was fired from the media

Topics: Vladimir Putin, Russia, Social Media, technology, oligarchs, russian facebook, , ,

Founder of Russia's "Facebook" says he was ousted, Putin's men in "complete control" of the site Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (Credit: AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Yana Lapikova, Government Press Service)

Pavel Durov, the 29-year-old founder of Vkontakte — Russia’s “Facebook” — was fired form the social media site, according to Buzzfeed. “Judging by the news, as a result of my public renunciation last week, today I was fired as general director of VKontakte,” Durov posted to the social media site. He also went onto say that after seven years of relative social media freedom, two of Putin’s right hand men are now in control of Vkontakte.

“In this way, 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 7 and a half years. We did a lot. And part of what’s been done can’t be turned back.”

According to The Economic Times, Usmanov was named “Russia’s richest tycoon for the third year in a row,” and is worth $18.6 billion. He’s the co-owner of Russia’s largest iron ore mining company, once held 10 percent of (U.S.) Facebook’s shares, and currently owns shares of Russia’s internet group Mail.Ru and the UK soccer team Arsenal.

Sechin, is the president of Russia’s largest state-owned oil company and close Putin ally.  The New York Times reported that Sechin is on the White House’s new list of people who will be targeted with sanctions, which the U.S. has put in place as a result of Russia’s land-grab of the Crimea peninsula. This power shift would put the social media site, which had previously avoided government control, directly in the hands of two powerful men in Russia, and Putin allies.

The site boasts over 100 million users, and Durov as CEO stayed largely out of politics. He did however refuse censorship attempts — including not shutting down the page of a Putin rival, Alexey Navalny, or Ukrainian protestors.

Durov’s departure from VKontakte has been a strange and ongoing issue. “Rumors that Durov was under pressure to sell his stake and leave the firm began last year,” Buzzfeed reports. ”In January, Durov announced he had sold his remaining 12 percent stake in the firm amid a shareholder feud.” In an apparent April fools joke, Durov announced that he was leaving, but then returned.



In his announcement, Durov made his firing seem like an odd technical issue. Though it is still unclear. He wrote:

“It is reported that today the board of directors of VKontakte suddenly found that a review of my statement of resignation from the post of general director on April 3 (which they publicly accepted before this), turned out to have been filled out “not according to all the rules,” so I am automatically fired. As for as I understand, this opaque position is held by all the shareholders.”

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that a letter of resignation put in on March 21 was not rescinded and devolved into automatic termination after a month.

Durov claims he did not know of his termination until he saw it on the news. “It’s interesting that the shareholders didn’t have the bravery to do this directly,” he wrote, “and that I learned about my firing from the press.”

A spokesperson for VKontakte told Buzzfeed that a new CEO will be appointed at the following board of directors meeting. A date for that has yet to be determined.

h/t Buzzfeed, New York Times, Economic Times

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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