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Russian Social Media Mogul Resigns Amid Mounting Pressure


A man looks at a computer screen showing logos of Russian social network VKontakte in an office in Moscow, May 24, 2013.

A man looks at a computer screen showing logos of Russian social network VKontakte in an office in Moscow, May 24, 2013.

Pavel Durov, often referred to as the "Russian Mark Zuckerberg," announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as the head of Russia's largest social media network "VKontakte."

His resignation comes as Kremlin-friendly executives have taken majority ownership of VKontakte and as Durov has increased his public criticism of government surveillance.

"Following my brother, who in the middle of last year left the post of technical director, I resign as Acting Director General of VKontakte," Durov posted on his VKontakte wall. "Thanks to all the users who have supported and inspired me these seven years." Image found on VKontakte founder Pavel Durov's goodbye all post.

Image found on VKontakte founder Pavel Durov's goodbye all post.

Accompanying his post was a photo captioned "So long and thanks for all the fish", a reference to the popular "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" books and film.

Durov's resignation was not a complete surprise to tech observers. It comes amid a cloud of allegations of mismanagement directed at Durov which his supports say have been orchestrated by the allies of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

VKontakte, which means "In Touch" in Russian, was launched by Durov in October of 2006, at a time when Facebook was undergoing explosive growth around the world, but was banned in Russia.

The social network, available in several languages, has proved very popular in Russia with an estimated 230 million members.

Durov, 29, a graduate of St. Petersburg State University, founded VKontakte, or VK for short, shortly after graduating. His net worth is estimated around $250 million.

While Durov has been fairly opaque in his criticisms of the Kremlin, observers have increasingly speculated that he has chafed at the more Putin-friendly direction the firm's board has encouraged.

Often described as a libertarian and a contrarian, Durov was initially seen as a quiet ally of the Kremlin.

But in early 2012, amid growing protests over disputed parliamentary elections, he balked at a Kremlin request to remove a VK group titled "United Russia - Party of Crooks and Thieves."

Since then, shares of VK have increasingly been acquired in a series of shadowy trades by Russian business executives with close ties to Putin.

In his resignation post, Durov did not mention the allegations of mismangement, but did allude to increasing friction with the company's new owners.

"As a result of events subsequent to the change in the shareholding of VKontakte in April 2013, the freedom of the CEO to manage the company has been significantly reduced," he posted.

"It’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend those principles, which were once laid in the foundation of our social network," he added.
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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

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