Thursday, 18 Jul 2024

In Rare Move, Russian Tech Tycoon Condemns War in Ukraine

A founder of Russia’s largest tech company condemned his country’s war in Ukraine on Thursday, a rare step among Russian tycoons caught between fear of Western sanctions and retribution at home.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is barbaric, and I am categorically against it,” Arkady Volozh, who until last year ran Yandex, often referred to as Russia’s Google, said in a statement. “I have to take my share of responsibility for the country’s actions,” he said, without offering additional details.

Mr. Volozh, who has lived in Israel since 2014, resigned his post as Yandex’s chief executive officer and left the company’s board last year after the European Union placed him under sanctions for “materially or financially” supporting the invasion. Yandex’s news aggregation service had been accused of blocking antiwar content, a move that the company defended as compliance with Russia’s increasingly draconian information laws.

His comments make him only the second sanctioned Russian businessman to take an unequivocal public position against the invasion. Last month, following a legal fight, the British government removed the Russian financier Oleg Tinkov, an outspoken critic of Mr. Putin who has renounced his Russian citizenship, from the sanctions blacklist.

Several others, including billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska, have made critical comments about the war, without openly condemning Mr. Putin’s policy.

Mr. Volozh’s statement also comes amid growing debate among Russian opponents of the war about how to encourage more members of the country’s elite to distance themselves from the government of President Vladimir V. Putin.

As successive packages of Western sanctions have failed to split Mr. Putin’s power base, opposition politicians and antiwar activists have begun to publicly discuss new ways to encourage more prominent Russians to speak out against the invasion. These efforts involve lobbying Western governments to remove sanctions against those who have taken a clear position against the conflict.

Yandex sold its news aggregation service soon after Mr. Volozh was placed under E.U. sanctions. Mr. Volozh had called the sanctions against him “misguided.”

Over the past year, Yandex’s Dutch parent company has been attempting to split its core Russian businesses, which include the country’s dominant internet search engine and taxi hailing service, from subsidiaries focused on artificial intelligence, which it hopes to relocate abroad.

The company had said that it expects the deal, which must be approved by the Kremlin, to close by the end of 2023. It is unclear how Mr. Volozh’s statement may affect its progress.

Although Mr. Volozh, 59, no longer has any formal ties to the company, he retains 8.5 percent of its shares, which are worth about $500 million based on their last trading price in New York. (The Nasdaq stock exchange suspended Yandex and other Russian-based stocks days after the invasion).

Mr. Volozh’s statement was greeted with cautious approval by some in Russia’s mostly exiled political opposition.

“Does this statement pass as a ‘deed-based confession?’ Of course not,” Leonid Volkov, a close ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “But here, it is particularly important to support the first, the most difficult step, in the right direction.”

Mr. Navalny’s team has adopted one of the most uncompromising positions toward Russians whom they consider to be supporting Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine, publishing a list of 7,000 individuals whom they believe should be punished financially by foreign governments.

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

Anatoly Kurmanaev is a foreign correspondent covering Russia’s transformation after its invasion of Ukraine. More about Anatoly Kurmanaev

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