Arkady Volozh, co-founder and former CEO of Yandex, Russia’s largest tech company, publicly condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine, a rare move among Russian tycoons who fear Western sanctions and domestic retaliation. In a statement, Volozh stated that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is barbaric and that he is categorically against it. Although he did not provide further details, he acknowledged his responsibility for the country’s actions.
Volozh resigned from his position as CEO of Yandex and left the company’s board last year after being sanctioned by the European Union for allegedly supporting the invasion. Yandex’s news aggregation service has been accused of blocking antiwar content, which the company defended as compliance with Russia’s restrictive information laws.
Volozh’s public stance makes him only the second sanctioned Russian businessman to openly criticize the invasion. The British government recently removed Oleg Tinkov, a Russian financier and critic of President Putin who renounced his Russian citizenship, from its sanctions blacklist. Other Russian billionaires like Mikhail Fridman and Oleg Deripaska have made critical comments about the war but have not explicitly condemned Putin’s policy.
Volozh’s statement comes at a time when Russian opponents of the war are discussing ways to encourage more members of the country’s elite to distance themselves from Putin’s government. Efforts are underway to lobby Western governments to lift sanctions against those who oppose the conflict. Yandex sold its news aggregation service shortly after Volozh was sanctioned, and the company’s Dutch parent company is working to split its core Russian businesses from its subsidiaries focused on artificial intelligence, which it hopes to relocate abroad.
Despite living in Israel since 2014 and having no formal ties to the company, Volozh still owns 8.5 percent of Yandex’s shares, worth approximately $500 million. However, the statement’s potential impact on the company’s progress is unclear, as the Nasdaq stock exchange suspended trading of Yandex and other Russian-based stocks following the invasion.
Volozh’s statement received cautious approval from some members of Russia’s exiled political opposition. Leonid Volkov, a close ally of jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, emphasized the importance of supporting Volozh’s first step in the right direction. Navalny’s team has taken an uncompromising stance against Russians they believe support Putin’s war in Ukraine, publishing a list of 7,000 individuals who they believe should face financial punishment from foreign governments.
In conclusion, Arkady Volozh’s public condemnation of Russia’s war in Ukraine is a significant move by a Russian tycoon given the potential risks involved. This rare act of dissent from a business leader demonstrates the growing debate among Russian elites about their relationship with Putin’s government and the potential impact of Western sanctions on their personal and professional lives.