Caught between Russian censorship and Western sanctions, Yandex seeks to sell assets

Yandex, the Russian online search giant – which also runs a variety of other digital services – is exploring different “strategic options, including divestment, for its news aggregation service and infotainment platform Zen “.

The company said on Friday that it intends to “focus on developing its other technology-related businesses and products (including search, advertising, self-driving and cloud) and transactional services ( including carpooling, e-commerce, video/audio and streaming), among others.”

Citing unnamed sources, TechCrunch believes the move is linked to the government’s crackdown on free speech, including a new law banning what authorities consider “fake” information or simply inadequate wording, such as the forbidden term “war”, in connection with Russia. military.

As the divestiture process is “at an early stage,” Yandex did not name any potential buyers, but “sources familiar with the discussions” told TechCrunch that VK Company “is a strong competitor.”

Formerly known as Mail.ru Group, VK Company is Yandex’s traditional rival in the Russian digital scene. Indirectly controlled by the government, this group owns the main Russian social networks VK (Vkontakte) and OK (Odnoklassniki) as well as various assets in the fields of games, entertainment, information services, etc.

As Russian media reported earlier this week, the VK company is preparing to launch a new corporate messaging service and relaunch the international messenger ICQ, which it acquired in 2010.

Personal sanctions

So far, neither Yandex nor VK Company as such has been targeted by Western sanctions. However, senior executives of both companies were affected. VK CEO Vladimir Kiriyenko is among “Putin’s elites and families” on the February 22 US Treasury sanctions list, while Yandex Executive Director and Deputy CEO Tigran Khudaverdyan other Russian business figures, had his assets frozen and imposed a travel ban as part of a new round of EU sanctions earlier this week.

Highlighting Yandex’s role in “concealing information from Russians about the war in Ukraine”, the EU believes Khudaverdyan could be a “key element” behind the manipulation of Yandex’s search results.

The EU also notes that Yandex “warned Russian users looking for information about Ukraine on its unreliable internet news search engine, after the Russian government threatened Russian media about it. that they publish.

Yandex is also financially exposed. On Feb. 28, as Russian stocks plummeted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nasdaq halted trading for many Russian companies, including Yandex, which had been listed there since May 2011.

Yandex later warned of a risk of default as the suspension exceeded five trading days. As a result, holders of convertible notes worth $1.25 billion have the right to demand that Yandex redeem their notes.

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