Parent Company of Yandex, Known as ‘Russia’s Google,’ Wants to Cut Ties With Country

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Europe|The parent of a tech giant known as ‘Russia’s Google’ wants to cut ties with the country.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/24/world/europe/yandex-russia-war.html

The move would be a setback to President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to develop homegrown substitutes for Western technology.

A Yandex taxi driving through the Red Square in Moscow in 2020.
Credit…Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

The parent firm of Russia’s most prominent technology company, Yandex, wants to cut ties with the country to shield its new businesses from the fallout of the war in Ukraine, a potential setback to President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to develop homegrown substitutes for high-tech Western goods and services that have been choked off by sanctions.

Under a sweeping overhaul, the Dutch holding company of Yandex — often referred to as “Russia’s Google” — would transfer its most promising new technologies to markets outside Russia and would sell its established businesses in the country, including a popular internet browser and food delivery and taxi-hailing apps, according to two people familiar with the matter who would not speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The company’s plan aims to shield itself from its home market, and highlights the stifling impact of Western sanctions on Russia’s once-thriving technology sector.

The people familiar with the matter said that the war in Ukraine has made the development of Yandex’s new technologies — such as self-driving cars, machine learning and cloud services — unviable. Such businesses, which require access to Western markets, experts and technology, would fail if they remain associated with Russia, one of them added.

Yandex’s Russian subsidiary would continue offering the same products in the country under the new owners, said the second person familiar with the matter.

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It is not clear whether Yandex’s plan will go forward. The company must obtain the Kremlin’s approval to transfer Russian-registered technology licenses outside the country, one of the people said. It would also need to find buyers, most likely within Russia, for its businesses, and the overall restructuring plan would need to be approved by Yandex’s shareholders.

Yandex’s plan is backed by Aleksei Kudrin, Russia’s chief government auditor and a longtime confidant of Mr. Putin. Mr. Kudrin, one of few prominent economic liberals left in the Russian government, is acting for the company informally, but is expected to take a managerial role in the future.

Mr. Kudrin is expected to meet Mr. Putin this week to discuss Yandex’s future and other topics, said one of the people familiar with the matter. The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Thursday that he had no information about such a meeting.

Yandex declined to comment. Russia’s Audit Chamber, Mr. Kudrin’s employer, did not respond to a request for comment.

The company’s restructuring plan was first reported by Russian economic media outlet The Bell.

Western efforts to isolate Russia economically after its invasion of Ukraine have devastated the once-thriving company. The price of Yandex’s shares traded in Moscow has plunged 62 percent in the past year. The company’s New York-listed shares lost more than $20 billion in value before the Nasdaq stock exchange suspended their trading following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Thousands of Yandex’s more than 18,000 employees have left Russia since the start of the invasion. In March, the company’s deputy chief executive at the time, Tigran Khudaverdyan, defied the Kremlin line by calling it a “monstrous war” in a Facebook post.

To distance itself from the war’s political fallout, Yandex in August sold its online news aggregator, which had become filled with state propaganda because of increasingly draconian Russian media laws that bar criticism of the war.

The European Union imposed sanctions against Mr. Khudaverdyan in March for Yandex’s role in promoting the Kremlin’s war narrative. His boss, the company’s Israel-based founder, Arkady Volozh, was hit with sanctions by the bloc several months later. Both resigned from the company to allow it to continue operating in Europe.

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