Medvedev threatens reprisals against Yandex bosses over GPT chatbot

The Bell

Former president Dmitry Medvedev, the most prominent hawk among senior Russian officials, criticized Yandex’s efforts to create an artificial neural network. Medvedev was unhappy with the efforts of the company, sometimes dubbed “Russia’s Google”, because its AI chatbot refused to answer questions about Ukraine.

  • Medvedev, now deputy chair of the Security Council who has built a reputation as one of the most vocal pro-war hawks (read more about that here), has blasted Yandex for its GPT chatbot refusing to answer a series of politically charged questions, including over Ukraine. For instance, it refused to say on which date the United States passed legislation allowing the seizure of Russian assets and could not name the location of a monument to Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist that Russia admonishes for his far-right links. Moscow has baselessly branded the current Kyiv government as Banderites who pursue a fascist ideology.
  • According to Medvedev, the bot replied: “I'm still just learning and I don't want to look stupid,” when he posed the questions. “And then it got absurd. We asked: ‘how far is it as the crow flies from Kyiv to Belgorod?’ [the southern Russian city most frequently hit by Ukrainian shelling during the war]. It answered: ‘429 km.’ We asked the same thing again, and it started playing the fool. Even though it measures all other distances perfectly well,” he said in a Telegram post.
  • The failure to answer the basic questions “seriously undermines our faith” in Yandex, Medvedev said, adding that it suggested a “very incomplete” service and “gives grounds ... to regard its current management as foreign agents.” Currently in Russia, any person or organization can be branded a foreign agent for criticism of the Kremlin, the war in Ukraine or for going against Moscow’s policies, such as through public support for the LGBT+ community. Although the Russian authorities insist the status is not discriminatory, foreign agents encounter many restrictions, including being banned from running for election or publishing advertising. 
  • Medvedev’s threats against Yandex come just a few days after the company officially changed ownership. Co-founder Arkady Volozh and his management team — who previously controlled the company via trusts held by the Dutch-based Yandex N.V — handed ownership to a consortium of Russian investors, half of whom have ties to major Russian oil-and-gas companies.

Why the world should care:

Medvedev’s complaints are aimed directly at Yandex’s Russian managers and investors. In contrast to Volozh, who has lived in Israel since 2015, these people chose to remain in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. That fact alone may no longer be enough to protect them.


Support The Bell!

The Bell's Newsletter

An inside look at the Russian economy and politics. Exclusively in your inbox every week.