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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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