Pavel Durov, the founder of Russian social networking website VK (often known by its original name VKontakte), has said he was fired from his role as chief executive officer of the company, just weeks after a resignation U-turn that exposed tensions with shareholders. Writing on his VK page yesterday, Durov claimed the dismissal was linked to his refusal to shut down Rospil: the War on Corruption, a group that had been set up on the social media website by opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
The request to shut down the group, which promoted the activities of anti-corruption orgaisation Rospil, came from the general prosecutor’s office. Durov wrote: “Judging by the news, as a result of my public refusal last week, I have been fired from my post as general director of Vkontakte.”
Durov further claimed that he found out about the dismissal through the press, criticising VK's shareholders for “not having the courage to do it right”. The entrepreneur's continuing conflict with VKontakte’s Kremlin-friendly shareholders — investment group United Capital Partners (UCP) and Russian internet company Mail.ru, headed by metal magnate Alisher Usmanov — is no stranger to media headlines. Durov’s commitment to supporting free speech over the years, including his refusal to close opposition groups during the 2011 anti-gvoernment protests, has resulted in strained relations with both shareholders.
Durov’s dismissal comes just weeks after he announced his resignation on 1 April, a decision he rescinded two days later, claiming it was an April Fool’s joke. In his latest Vkontakte post, he said: “It is reported that the board of directors of VKontakte today ‘suddenly’ found about that my decision to stay on as general director on 3 April (which prior to now they had publicly accepted) turned out not to be filed ‘according to the rules’, therefore I have been automatically fired from my position.”
Earlier this year, Durov’s position at Vkontakte further weakened when he sold his remaining 12% stake in the company, which was acquired by Mail.ru in March. Nicknamed “Russia’s Facebook” by western press, VK has grown to become one of the world’s largest social networking sites, with the site claiming to feature as many as 239 million accounts as of January 2014.
In his closing statement on VK, Durov wrote: “Thus, today VKontakte goes under the complete control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov. Probably, in the Russian context something like this was inevitable, but I'm glad we lasted for seven and a half years. We managed to do a lot. And part of what we have achieved hasn’t been reversed.”
In an interview with TechCrunch today, Durov said he had left Russia with no plans to return, adding: “Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with internet business at the moment.”