The Russian government has finally completed its move to take control of VKontakte, the number one social network in Russia (100 million users). Founded in 2006 by Pavel Dourov, an opponent of the government who also created Telegram, VKontakte played a leading role in protest movements in the early 2010s.
The Kremlin therefore wanted to impose its hold on the social network, gradually pushing Pavel Dourov towards the exit. In 2014, the oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who is close to the government, acquired 52% of the shares of MF Technologies, the company that controls VKontakte.
On 2 December 2021, Alisher Usmanov sold 45% of his shares—or just over 23% of MF Technologies—to Sogaz, a subsidiary of state oil and gas giant Gazprom. At the same time, Gazprombank, another subsidiary of the group, which already owned 36% of MF Technologies, increased its stake to 45%, before selling all its shares to a third Gazprom subsidiary, Gazprom-Media.
In total, through its two subsidiaries, Gazprom now owns 68% of MF Technologies. Gazprom is 50.2% owned by the Russian government. The Kremlin therefore now has control over VKontakte. The two Gazprom subsidiaries will each receive only 5% of the group’s profits, which proves that the government’s objective is not financial but strategic, by making VKontakte a tool of influence.
Gazprom-Media already owns 38 television channels and 10 Russian-language radio stations; it has convinced no one by assuring that VKontakte will remain “an independent company.“