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In Front of Putin, Internet Titans Lose Their Nerve

Published: June 25, 2014 (Issue # 1817)



  • 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

Thestatements that President Vladimir Putin made ata recent meeting with leaders ofthe Russian Internet are hardly worth discussing. As usual, he offered only vague assurances ofsupport fora variety offreedoms while pretending that all ofthe recent legislative initiatives tightening control over theInternet were designed exclusively tofight pedophiles, drugs, terrorism andsuicide.

What is worth discussing is theposition ofthe Internet industry leaders themselves. Inthe run-up tothe meeting, many observers recalled theconversation that then prime minister Putin held with Internet professionals onDec. 29, 1999 thefirst andonly inthe past 15 years.

Over thecourse ofthose 15 years theRussian Internet has evolved intoan industry doing more than 5 trillion rubles ($143 billion) inbusiness annually, employing 1.3 million IT professionals, generating 8.5 percent ofRussias gross domestic product andaccounting for2.5 percent ofall its trade. Almost every market is now connected insome way with theInternet. Whats more, Russian companies have shown that they are able todominate thedomestic Internet market even after global corporations entered thefray.

However, thepeople invited tothe meeting with Putin did not behave like theleaders ofsuch apowerful industry.

Many had hoped that themeeting would provide aforum todiscuss thedisastrous impact that two years ofstate regulations have had onthe Russian Internet. They also hoped industry leaders would present aunited front tothe president who personally inflicted serious damage tothe sector bypublicly stating that theInternet is thebrainchild ofthe CIA andby criticizing Russian Internet giants Yandex, Mail.ru andQiwi, causing their stocks toplummet onthe Nasdaq.

Instead, thesubject ofregulation was never even raised. Therecently passed law tightening restrictions onblogs was only mentioned once.

That comment came fromVkontakte deputy CEO Boris Dobrodeyev, who is himself hardly anopposition leader. Boriss father, Oleg, is head ofthe All-Russia State Television andRadio Broadcasting Company, astate media behemoth. Despite Boris having only worked atthe social network since January, Mail.Ru Group Russias second-largest Internet company andowner ofa 52 percent share inVkontakte has already nominated him to replace CEO Pavel Durov.

Andeven then, Dobrodeyev only referred toblogs as part ofhis attempt topoint out that Vkontakte has about 80,000 groups with more than 3,000 followers afigure almost exceeding thetotal number ofonline media inthe country andunderscoring theimportance ofblogs tothe Internet business as awhole. Infact, Dobrodeyev made his comment atan open meeting before Putins arrival, meaning that thepresident never even heard it directly.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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