Александр Миридонов/Коммерсантъ

Yandex founder labels himself “Israeli businessman,” inflaming Russia’s opposition

The Bell

Arkady Volozh, the founder of Russian IT giant Yandex, found himself at the center of a mini-scandal after Russian opposition figures saw his new personal promotional website, where he describes himself as “an Israeli businessman, born in Kazakhstan” — and barely mentions Russia, where he lived most of his life and built his business.

  • “Arkady Volozh is a Kazakhstan-born Israeli tech entrepreneur, computer scientist, investor and philanthropist. <...> Since 2015 Volozh has been living in Israel, focusing mostly on developing and exploring new technologies,” reads Volozh’s bio on his new personal website. Volozh was indeed born in Kazakhstan, which at the time was part of the U.S.S.R. His father worked there as a geologist. However, in the early 1980s Volozh moved to Moscow, where he lived for 30 years and built a multibillion-dollar business. However, on his site, Volozh only mentions Russia as the place where he set up his first company, Comptek. Yandex is described as the NASDAQ-listed Yandex N.V., one of Europe’s largest internet companies — with no reference to Russia.
  • Volozh acquired Israeli citizenship in the mid-2010s and primarily lives in Israel. However, until the invasion of Ukraine, he remained the head of the Dutch-registered Yandex N.V., which owns the Russian Yandex. He did not openly condemn Russia for the invasion, and in the spring of 2022 he wasplaced under EU sanctions as the head of a company that used its status as Russia’s leading search engine to promote state media and Kremlin narratives in its search results while deranking and removing content critical of the Kremlin.
  • Volozh is now trying to distance himself from Russia. He has been in talksover the sale of his stake in Yandex since summer 2022, trying to exchange them for the company’s international assets, but has so far been unable to reach an agreement with a buyer or the Kremlin.
  • Russian opposition voices are angry that Volozh is now behaving as if Russia plays no part in his biography. “‘I took part in the creation of various incarnations of the gulag, but now it’s got nothing to do with me!’,” Mediazona editor-in-chief Sergei Smirnov wrote, comparing Volozh’s actions to disavowing involvement in the creation of the gulag system. “A total lack of conscience.”

Why the world should care

Arkady Volozh is by no means the leading figure behind Russia’s “digital gulag,” nor is he the closest businessman to the authorities (compared with, say, Alisher Usmanov, who is also trying to quietly distance himself from Russia in interviews with Western media). But it won’t be easy to prove that point in the West.


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