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So Long, Mr. Durov, and Thanks for All the Fish

Pavel Durov, ousted from Vkontakte, for good. Images mixed by author.

Pavel Durov, ousted from Vkontakte, for good. Images mixed by author.

After more than a year of rumors, the stockholders of Russia’s largest online social network, Vkontakte, have finally fired founder and CEO Pavel Durov. Befitting the oddity that VK’s internal politics has become, the company today terminated its creator’s employment on a technicality, claiming that Durov never rescinded his March 21, 2014, resignation. Publicly at least, Durov did indeed void his decision to quit VK, saying it was partly an April Fools joke and partly a tactical maneuver to see how his adversaries would respond.

Vkontakte now says Durov never formally retracted his resignation. Acting Director Dmitri Sergeev (a man who just last March defended Durov against accusations of misusing company funds) told the press today that a month has passed since Durov informed VK’s board of directors of his intention to resign, entering the resignation into effect.

There have been several occasions over the last year when Durov’s ouster from Vkontakte appeared to be a done deal. Each of those times, the now-29-year-old tech maverick managed to keep his job. With some caution, it seems we can at last announce that Durov is at the end of his rope. Last week, maybe in anticipation of today’s news, he revealed that the Russian government has pressured Vkontakte to share personal data about the VK community organizers of Euromaidan groups and to shut down Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption group. On both occasions, Durov says he told federal authorities to get lost. Today, perhaps, the Russian establishment responded in kind.

In an statement published to his Vkontakte page today, Durov slammed the decision to “accept his resignation,” declaring that the company is now under the control of Alisher Usmanov, who is co-owner of Mail.ru Group (VK’s majority shareholder), and Igor Sechin, who is rumored to be connected to UCP (VK’s minority shareholder). Curiously, Durov omits any mention of Ilya Sherbovich, UCP’s president, skipping directly to Sechin, the company’s alleged silovik godfather.

What follows is a full translation of Durov’s April 21, 2014, statement.

Судя по новостям, в результате моего публичного отказа на прошлой неделе, сегодня меня уволили с должности генерального директора ВКонтакте. Интересно, что у акционеров не хватило смелости сделать это прямо, и о своем загадочном увольнении я узнаю из прессы.

Как сообщается, совет директоров ВКонтакте сегодня *внезапно* обнаружил, что отзыв моего заявления об уходе с поста генерального директора 3 апреля (который они до этого публично приняли), оказался оформлен “не по всем правилам”, поэтому я автоматически освобождаюсь от должности. Насколько я понимаю, эта непрозрачная позиция является общей для всех акционеров.

Таким образом, сегодня ВКонтакте переходит под полный контроль Игоря Сечина и Алишера Усманова. Наверное, в российских условиях нечто подобное было неизбежно, но я рад, что мы продержались 7 с половиной лет. Мы многое успели. И часть того, что было сделано, уже не обратить вспять.

Judging by the news, as a result of my refusal last week [to cooperate with the Kremlin], today they’ve fired me from my post as general director of Vkontakte. Interestingly, the shareholders didn’t have the courage to do this directly, and I learned about my own dismissal from the press.

It’s being reported that VK’s board of directors today *suddenly* determined that the withdrawal of my letter of resignation (which they publicly accepted until now) appears to have been formatted “not entirely according to the rules,” and therefore I am automatically dismissed from my position. As I understand it, all the shareholders share this non-transparent position.

As a result, Vkontakte today goes under the total control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov. Most likely, in the Russian context, something like this was inevitable from the start, but I’m glad that we lasted seven and a half years. We accomplished a lot. And some of what we managed is already impossible to undo.

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