Europe Lifts Sanctions on Yandex Cofounder Arkady Volozh

Arkady Volozh, the billionaire cofounder of Russia’s biggest internet company, was removed from the EU sanctions list today, clearing the way for his return to the world of international tech.

On Tuesday a spokesperson for the European Council confirmed to WIRED that the Yandex cofounder was among three people whose sanctions were lifted this week.

Volozh, 60, was initially included on the EU sanctions list in June 2023, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. “Volozh is a leading businessperson involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of revenue to the Government of the Russian Federation,” the bloc said last year to justify its decision. “As founder and CEO of Yandex, he is supporting, materially or financially, the Government of the Russian Federation.” In response, Volozh stepped down from his position as Yandex CEO, calling the sanctions “misguided.”

Three months later, Volozh, who has been living in Israel since 2014, became one of the few prolific Russian businessmen to speak out against the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine, describing the war as “barbaric.” “I am horrified about the fate of people in Ukraine—many of them my personal friends and relatives—whose houses are being bombed every day,” he said in a statement in August.

Founded as a search engine in 1997, Yandex became known as “Russia’s Google” because the company ​​was ubiquitous in the everyday life of millions of Russians. There is Yandex Music for streaming. Yandex Navigator for maps. And Yandex Go for hailing a ride. Although Volozh stepped down as CEO in June 2023, he continues to hold an 8.5 percent economic interest in Yandex’s Dutch parent company, Yandex NV, through a family trust.

Over the past 18 months, Yandex NV has been involved in complex negotiations with the Kremlin, in an attempt to sell its Russian operations while carving out four Europe-based units, which include businesses focused on self-driving cars, cloud computing, data labeling, and education tech.

Last month, Yandex NV announced it had reached a “binding agreement” with Russia to sell its operations in the country to a local consortium for 475 billion rubles ($5.2 billion) in a cash and shares deal. Yandex NV, once worth $30 billion at its peak, said that the price included a “mandatory discount of at least 50 percent” under Russian government rules that apply to the sale of Russian assets by companies based in countries considered to be “unfriendly” by the Kremlin, including the Netherlands.

The removal of sanctions affecting one of Russian tech’s most prominent figures will be especially significant if Volozh goes on to build Yandex 2.0 inside Europe. The billionaire maintains strong ties to exiled Russian tech talent, with thousands of Yandex staff leaving the country after the start of the war. “These people are now out, and in a position to start something new, continuing to drive technological innovation,” Volozh said in the same 2023 statement. “They will be a tremendous asset to the countries in which they land.”

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

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