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Going, going but NOT gone...

0 21 January 2014

The apparent power struggle at the top of VKontakte shows no signs of abating. Yesterday Izvestia, a leading Russian daily, published an article claiming that Pavel Durov, the founder and CEO of Russia’s most popular social network, was to leave the company to focus on his messenger service Telegram, launched in August last year. It also claimed that many of VKontakte’s staff would be going with him. 

The claims were subsequently denied, with VK press-secretary Georgi Lobushkin confirming on his VK page that 

“Pavel Durov remains the general director of VKontakte”, 

A representative of Alisher Usmanov, the owner of Mail.ru Group (who’s 39.9% stake in VK.com is controlled by Durov) asserted that

 “Pavel Durov still controls Mail.ru Group’s stake in VKontakte, and he will remain the general director of the network as long as that remains the case.” 

Durov himself also spoke up, telling Forbes.ru that 

“this, in keeping with Izvestia tradition, is false information.”

However, speculation remains rife. Strangely, before publishing the article Vladimir Zykov asked Lobushkin for comments, but Lobushkin refused to deny the allegations, saying that he had nothing to say on the matter.

Subsequently, Nikolai Durov, Pavel’s brother and the technical director of VK shed some light on the possible source of the rumour - 

“I would not totally rule out the possibility that VK’s major shareholders are secretly discussing a swift change in general director and team, or that they are at least making sure that this option is available to them, which is why they are already looking for specialists. 

Therefore we can possibly excuse Vladimir Vladimirovich (Zykov - who wrote the Izvestia article) - maybe a programmer was really offered a job, and told Zykov about it. He simply drew the wrong conclusions.

It would be interesting to know if anyone has really been offered a position at VK, and by whom. Most likely of course - by a recruiting company.” 

Maybe this was some consolation to poor Zykov, who posted yesterday evening that he’d "got the shakes and developed an eye twitch". However, it still doesn’t explain why Lobushkin chose not to comment, and therefore let the story shock the Russian internet community for a few hours before eventually saying that it was nothing. 

Whatever is actually going on, it's clear is that something is not quite right behind the scenes at Russia’s most popular social network. This latest scandal follows a year of strange happenings at the company.

In April 2013, Durov was implicated in a bizarre car accident that left a traffic police officer with minor injuries. Several liberal media outlets in Russia also published allegations that Durov and Vkontakte had cooperated with the Kremlin to stifle political protests during the 2011-2012 “Winter of Discontent.” Rumors also spread that Durov had fled the country to the United States, where he was supposedly planning the release a new instant messaging application called “Telegram.”

Around the same time, the previously unknown investment group United Capital Partners purchased 48% of Vkontakte, seemingly behind Durov’s back. Many suspect that UCP engineered the attacks against Durov, planting the stories in the media, in order to pressure the website’s founder into selling his 12% stock, paving the way to a more pliant general manager more open to “monetizing” the service.

Furthermore, while Mail.ru have largely supported Durov while all this was going on, Alisher Usmanov, who’s 39.9% stake in VK is controlled by Durov, said in December that he and Durov are working through some “fraternal issues”.

Things seem unlikely to quieten down any time soon.

Sources: Global Voices, SiliconRus.

Top image via Shutterstock.

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