On April 1, Pavel Durov stepped down from his role as CEO of VKontakte, the popular Russian social networking site that he founded, known as the “Facebook of Russia.” But today comes a dramatic turn of events: Durov has rescinded his resignation.
A source close to VK.com tells us that more details should emerge next week. “But in short, the fight goes on. He will not voluntarily give up,” the source said.
Durov has posted a slightly cryptic note on his own VK.com page, which says, in translation, “Congratulations to those who decided that I should really voluntarily resign,” punctuated by an illustration of the elusively gazing Doge dog — which we’ve reproduced here.
For now, it’s not clear exactly what transpired in the last couple of days to reverse events, after Durov wrote (on April 1), “I resign as Acting Director General of VKontakte.”
In any case, in the parlance of social networking relationship status updates, “It’s complicated.”
The ownership of VKontakte, the most popular social network in Russia, is currently held by two companies, the VC United Capital Partners and Russian Internet giant Mail.ru, with the latter owning just under 52%, after picking up in March the remaining 12% owned by Durov after Durov first sold it on to Megafon head Ivan Tavrin in January.
Since last year, when ownership in the company started to shift around, there have been a lot of tensions between Durov and the shareholders, partly over freedom of speech issues and partly over the fact that Durov (perhaps in response to the former) struck out on his own to create a secure messaging app, Telegram.
The freedom of speech issues have reached a peak as Russia has progressively clamped down on platforms where people express viewpoints opposing those of the Kremlin, which is embroiled in a crisis in Ukraine that is spilling into wider diplomatic rifts with other countries like the U.S.
On the shareholder front, it seems that there is, at least, a protocol that requires a more measured approach to the CEO resigning. It appears that the shareholders had been preparing to meet to discuss the leadership of the social network later this week, before all of this transpired.
Forbes today published (in Russian) a story that claims Durov has sent a note to shareholders in English to explain why he is staying on. “Since it came to my knowledge that my resignation at this moment can create unnecessary risks for our company, I intend to remain and serve as the CEO,” the note says. We have contacted VK.com to verify the note.
We have also reached out to Mail.ru, but the company has declined to comment on the matter for now. (We’ll continue to ask, though.)
But aside from those serious issues, there have been slightly surreal turns — as befits a Russian crisis — that make it hard to parse what is really going on.
VKontakte spokesperson George Lobushkin, who eventually confirmed directly to TC that the resignation of April 1 was not an April Fools’, had initially declined to comment. He then went so far as to Rick-Roll those who tried to click through a tweet to see an “official statement” on the matter.
We’ll update the story as we learn more.