Russia’s ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ says he’s been ousted from his company by Putin-linked oligarches


VK founder Pavel Durov, called "the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia," is reportedly in hiding. (VK)

It's been coming for a long time, but it looks like it's finally official: Pavel Durov is out at VK, Russia's home-grown Facebook clone.

In a message posted to his own account, Durov, the 29-year-old founder of VK (formerly VKontakte) explained that he had been "fired" from his position as chief executive. The decision came after months of disputes, which saw "Russia's Mark Zuckerburg" accused of being in a hit-and-run accident involving a traffic cop and going into hiding, before slowly losing control of his own company.


Pavel Durov's message on VK

Durov is certainly a character – he's known for wearing all-black, loving the "Matrix" films, and refusing to drink or smoke –and the Italian-raised entrepreneur had gained a reputation as a champion of free speech, although some, such as our own Will Englund, questioned whether that reputation really stuck.

His dismissal is certainly murky. VK is reportedly saying his dismissal was on a technicality due to a provocative resignation Durov offered last month, while Durov himself points towards a number of times he had revealed pressure from the Russian government on VK.

So who is running Russia's biggest social network and its 100 million active users' accounts now?

Durov says that the Web site is now under the "under the complete control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov," and the evidence seems to support him. Ilya Sherbovich, a businessman with links to Sechin, led a hostile takeover against Durov last year that loosened Durov's grip on his creation. Usmanov is a major investor in Mail.ru, the Russian Internet group which bought shares that bought what remained of Durov's shares in March.

Both men have formidable reputations: Sechin has been referred to as "Darth Vadar" and the "scariest man on earth," while Usmanov is best known as the richest man in Russia. They are said to be members of President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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