Apple removes Russian social network VKontakte from App Store, Russia demands explanation

Apple confirmed  on Wednesday that it has removed popular Russian social network VKontakte from its App Store globally due to sanctions imposed by Britain. Following the referendums held in Kremlin-held areas of Ukraine, the British government had sanctioned 92 Russian individuals and entities on Monday. Kyiv and its allies have denounced the referendum as a “sham”, while Russia stepped up threats against the West.

“Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognize their results,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

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St. Petersburg-based tech firm VK said in a blog post that some of its applications were no longer available on the App Store. VK apps are used for messaging, digital payments and grocery shopping as well as social networking. Vkontakte has over 75 million monthly users and is Russia’s largest social networking app, often compared to Facebook. Along with VK’s email service, Vkontakte must be pre-installed on mobile devices sold in Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, on Wednesday demanded an explanation from Apple for the action. Roskomnadzor said Apple’s actions had deprived millions of Russians of access to VK apps.

VK CEO Vladimir Kiriyenko is under UK sanctions, along with his father Sergei Kiriyenko, who serves as President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff.

Roskomnadzor said the restrictions are “discriminatory” and violated Russian internet users’ right to free information and communication. Apple said it follows laws in the jurisdictions where the company operates. The apps in question were being distributed by developers majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government, it added.

People who have already installed the apps on devices can still use them, but updates will no longer be provided through the App Store, according to Apple and VK.

(With inputs from agencies)


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