Yandex, Russia’s leading internet company, announced on Tuesday that it has agreed to sell its news aggregator and website to rival VK, in a deal likely to further limit access for Russian citizens. to independent media.

The deal, whereby Yandex will acquire 100% of the Delivery Club food delivery service, marks a significant change in the Russian internet landscape, as Yandex hands over control of online content distribution to a company controlled by the Russian state.

VK already runs Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte, while Moscow has blocked access to some foreign platforms, including Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Instagram.

Russia’s years-long suppression of independent media intensified sharply after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, passing a law banning what it calls “false information” about the military and wiping out the ability to many organizations to broadcast freely.

“Yandex’s board of directors and management have come to the conclusion that the interests of the company’s stakeholders (…) are better served by pursuing a strategic exit from its media businesses and passing to focus on other technologies and services,” Yandex said in a statement.

Yandex, which is listed on Nasdaq and is known as “Russia’s Google”, has in recent years complied with Moscow’s demands under the threat of fines over stories that may appear on its news aggregator, causing criticism of the impact on media freedom.

Moscow has not blocked access to most foreign-language media, which remain freely accessible in Russia and on Yandex, but search results do restrict access to sites that communications regulator Roskomnadzor has banned, many of which are independent Russian-language media.

In February, Yandex began warning Russian users searching for information about events in Ukraine of unreliable information on the internet.

On March 1, Lev Gershenzon, former director of Yandex News, described Yandex as a key player in hiding information about the conflict in Ukraine. Yandex has denied being complicit in the censorship.

“We are buying our freedom,” said a source close to Yandex. “This business had been a heavy burden for us.”

“This will allow us to make our business significantly depoliticized, practically completely depoliticized.”

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