I don't harbor any affection for the founder of Facebook knock-off VKontakte (VK, for short) Pavel Durov -- I noted back in May 2012 how he was a spoiled rich a-hole. Yet undoubtedly, Durov's fleeing Russia is a harbinger of an even more despotic rule to come under Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
VK, which largely resembles an older version of Facebook, attracts about 60 million users daily, primarily from countries in the former Soviet Union, vastly outstripping Facebook's reach in the region. It played an instrumental role in bringing hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets in late 2011 in the wake of widely manipulated parliamentary elections, and it has played a part in drawing crowds to the Kiev protest movement that helped oust Ukraine's pro-Russian president in February.
As many others have predicted, Putin's strong-armed adventures abroad must certainly coincide with a stronger hand at home against Russian dissidents, journalists, academics, ethnic and other minorities, and entrepreneurs. Putin simply cannot allow a version of reality that isn't his own.
As AP noted:
On Tuesday, the Russian parliament passed a law requiring social media websites to keep their servers in Russia and save all information about their users for at least half a year. The same law, which will go into effect in August if signed by Putin, gave bloggers the same legal status — and responsibilities — as media outlets, making them more vulnerable to accusations of libel or extremism.
Durov said "we held out for seven and a half years," meaning VK held some semblance of freedom despite Putin. But a threat to autocracy anywhere is a threat to autocracy everywhere; and threats cannot be tolerated.
By Laura Mills and Alexander Roslyakov
April 23, 2014 | AP