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Russia's Internet Leaders Have Lost Their Nerve

Published: June 19, 2014 (Issue # 1816)



  • Only Dmitry Grishin of Mail.Ru found the courage to raise the question of Internet regulation at a recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
    Photo: Mail.ru / Wikimedia Commons

The statements that President Vladimir Putin made at a recent meeting with leaders of the Russian Internet are hardly worth discussing. As usual, he offered only vague assurances of support for a variety of freedoms while pretending that all of the recent legislative initiatives tightening control over the Internet were designed exclusively to fight pedophiles, drugs, terrorism and suicide.

What is worth discussing is the position of the Internet industry leaders themselves. In the run-up to the meeting, many observers recalled the conversation that then-prime minister Putin held with Internet professionals on Dec. 29, 1999 — the first and only in that format in the past 15 years.

Over the course of those 15 years the Russian Internet has evolved into an industry doing more than 5 trillion rubles ($143 billion) in business annually, employing 1.3 million IT professionals, generating 8.5 percent of Russia's gross domestic product and accounting for 2.5 percent of all its trade. Almost every market is now connected in some way with the Internet. What's more, Russian companies have shown that they are able to dominate the domestic Internet market even after global corporations entered the fray.

However, the people invited to the meeting with Putin did not behave like the leaders of such a powerful industry.

Many had hoped that the meeting would provide a forum to discuss the disastrous impact that two years of state regulations have had on the Russian Internet. They also hoped industry leaders would present a united front to the president — who personally inflicted serious damage to the sector by publicly stating that the Internet is the brainchild of the CIA and by criticizing Russian Internet giants Yandex, Mail.ru and Qiwi, causing their stocks to plummet on the Nasdaq.

Instead, the subject of regulation was never even raised.

Even the recently passed and controversial law that tightens restrictions on blogs was only mentioned once.

That comment came from VKontakte deputy CEO Boris Dobrodeyev, who is himself hardly an opposition leader. Boris's father, Oleg, is head of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, a state media behemoth. Despite Boris having only worked at the social network since January, Mail.Ru Group — Russia's second-largest Internet company and owner of a 52 percent share in VKontakte — has already nominated him replace CEO Pavel Durov.

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Monday, Jan. 26


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Discover the State Hermitage Museum's collection of English painting at a lecture by art historian Yelizaveta Renne at the Prince Galitzine Library, 46 Nab. Reki Fontanki. The event starts at 6 p.m. and the lecture will be followed by a concert of arias, songs and duets by English composer Henry Purcell. The event is free of charge.



Tuesday, Jan. 27


Celebrate the 71st anniversary of the end of the Siege of Leningrad on Palace Square with a free concert at 7 p.m. Listen to WWII-era songs and the poetry of Olga Bergholz while you peruse outdoor exhibitions dedicated to life during wartime. The event is capped off by a fireworks display at 9 p.m.



Stop by the Lexica School of Foreign Languages at 73 Ligovsky Prospekt from now until Friday for a free English lesson. The classes start at 7 p.m. and cover all levels, from Beginner to Advanced. Registration by telephone on 7641692 and a desire to improve your skills are the only prerequisites.



Wednesday, Jan. 28



Feel like becoming a publishing mogul? Stop by the Freedom anti-cafe at 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya today at 8 p.m. where Simferopol, Crimea-based founder and chief editor of the Holst online magazine will talk about creating an internet magaine, including what stories to cover, how find an audience and build a team, where to find inspiration and how to stand out from the crowd. Admission is the normal price of the anti-café — 2 rubles per minute, which includes tea and snacks.



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