On Wednesday, Apple announced that it has permanently deleted the well-known Russian social network VKontakte from its App Store owing to British sanctions. The British government imposed sanctions on 92 Russian persons and businesses on Monday in response to the referendums that were staged in the parts of Ukraine controlled by the Kremlin. While Russia increased its threats against the West, Kyiv and its supporters called the vote a ‘sham’.
In a statement, James Cleverly, the British Foreign Secretary, warned that ‘sham referendums undertaken at the point of a pistol cannot be free or fair, and we will never accept such outcomes’. The San Petersburg-based software company VK said on its blog that the App Store no longer carried some of its products. Along with social networking, VK applications are used for chatting, online shopping, and payments. Russia’s largest social networking software, Vkontakte, which is sometimes compared to Facebook, has over 75 million monthly users. Vkontakte must be pre-installed on mobile devices sold in Russia, along with VK’s email service Mail.ru.
Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications watchdog, demanded an explanation from Apple for the action on Wednesday. According to Roskomnadzor, Apple’s actions have denied access to VK apps to millions of Russians. Along with his father Sergei Kiriyenko, who serves as President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy head of staff, VK CEO Vladimir Kiriyenko is subject to UK sanctions.
The restrictions, according to Roskomnadzor, undermine the right to free information and communication of Russian internet users and are ‘discriminatory’. Apple said that it abides with the laws of the countries in which it conducts business. According to the statement, the questioned apps were being distributed by developers who were majority owned or majority managed by one or more organisations approved by the UK government. Apple and VK said that although updates will no longer be offered through the App Store, users who have already downloaded the applications on their devices can still use them.