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Tech Giants vs. Russian Censor

In incidents involving two Kremlin critics, social media moguls probe the limits of Russia’s clampdown on dissent.

27 February 2018

Yandex, Russia’s largest technology company and most popular search engine, is refusing to obey an order to block one of exiled oppositionist Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s (pictured) websites.


The federal communications regulator Roskomnadzor last week demanded that Yandex block access to Khodorkovsky’s MBKh Media on Yandex Zen, its personalized content service. The agency threatened to shut down Yandex Zen unless it complied with the order within 24 hours, Dozhd reported.


The regulator said MBKh published materials about Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia Civic Movement, which is blacklisted as an “undesirable organization” in Russia, Meduza reported.  


“The law doesn’t require [online] services to participate in the blocking process. We have to notify the owner of the channel, and that’s what we’ve done. We see no grounds for other actions on our part,” Yandex said in a statement on 23 February.


Yandex Zen is currently still accessible.


On 21 February, Roskomnadzor ordered the website of MBKh Media blocked at the request of the public prosecutor’s office, Dozhd says. Khodorkovsky, former owner of the oil and gas giant Yukos who became an opposition figure during the decade he spent in a Russian prison, launched the MBKh Media after Roskomnadzor ordered the website of his Open Russia foundation blocked in December last year, according to Dozhd.


While Khodorkovsky struggles to keep an internet presence in Russia, a second high-profile Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, is back online after obeying a court order to remove from his website a report of his investigation into a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko with billionaire Oleg Deripaska on the latter’s yacht.


According to Meduza, other media outlets, including the Russian service of RFE/RL, also complied with the order by removing photos and videos they had taken from Navalny’s report from their websites, and Instagram deleted two photos. Only Google-owned YouTube has refused to meet Roskomnadzor’s demands, pending the outcome of Deripaska’s lawsuit against Anastasiya Vashukevich, the self-proclaimed escort who filmed the 2016 meeting on his yacht.



  • Vashukevich, aka Nastya Rybka, and Alexander Kirillov, aka Alex Leslie, were among 10 Russians arrested last weekend in Thailand for “illegally conducting sex training in a Thai resort,” TASS reported yesterday. Meduza wonders whether Deripaska has something to do with it. Both are named in his invasion of privacy suit due to be heard soon in a Russian court.


  • Navalny, who is banned from participating in Russia’s presidential election on 18 March, might spend election day in jail as a consequence of his brief detention in Moscow last week, CNN reported. Navalny tweeted that the authorities have initiated a new legal case against him for organizing anti-government protests. He could be detained for up to 30 days.

Compiled by Wasse Jonkhans

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The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

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