The founder of Russia’s largest internet search engine Yandex, Arkady Volozh, has resigned from his post as chief executive officer, with media speculation focused on disagreements with President Vladimir Putin on internet control.
Volozh, who had headed the internet giant since 2000, confirmed that he would remain as chief executive officer of holding company Yandex N.V. From 1 September, Alexander Shulgin, Yandex’s current chief financial officer, will take Volozh’s place as chief executive officer of the firm.
In an interview with Forbes.ru, Volozh said: “I have always looked for and prepared for a new generation of managers. It is difficult to simultaneously conduct the administrative work involved in managing such a large company and at the same time think about development strategies and business expansions. I will now be able to focus my energies on broader strategic initiatives, including expansion into new business models and markets.”
Some media pundits have seen Volozh’s resignation as part of a shift in a media landscape which is becoming increasingly inhospitable towards those who oppose the Kremlin’s growing control of the dissemination of information.
Popular blogger Anton Nossik has considered Volozh’s resignation as “a landmark event, and from the point of view of the company’s interest an attempt to save what can be saved in such a situation”. Writing on his blog, Nossik said: “Volozh’s resignation is the inevitable consequence of the current state of the internet sphere, like the squeezing out of Pavel Durov from VK … Hopefully, somehow, [Yandex] will keep going despite Volozh’s resignation.”
He added: “With or without control, any internet (even the Chinese internet) is the free exchange of information. In the end it will be easier to shut down Yandex and VK than to try to effectively control them by rewriting their content management systems in the direction of automatic political censorship.”
Although Volozh has not cited political reasons for his resignation, Russian journalists have pointed to a conference in May, in which Putin referred to the internet as a “CIA project”, criticised Yandex for registering itself in the Netherlands and accused the internet giant of being under foreign influence, as the tipping point. The comments, believed to have caused a drop in Yandex’s share price, marked the intensification of the Kremlin’s hostilities towards the internet firm.
Earlier this year, Yandex joined a host of websites and internet companies in refusing to publish statistics that reveal whether a blog’s audience exceeds 2,500 readers. The refusal came in the wake of the announcement of the “blogger’s law”, which requires blogs that receive over 3,000 unique visits a day to register with media watchdog Roskomnadzor.
The government further sought to limit Yandex with a bill in May to force the company’s news aggregator, Yandex News, to register as mass media, thereby obliging it to verify the accuracy of articles and ensure that no “propaganda” in support of electoral candidates is published.
In the past few months, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on the dissemination of information, with Volozh’s resignation joining a growing list of people working in the internet and social media spheres who have left their posts due the government’s clampdown on media freedom.