The owner of Yandex, often referred to as “Russia’s Google”, has said it will pull out of its country of origin.
Its Dutch-based parent company sold the operation in Russia for 475 billion roubles ($5.2bn; £4.2bn), much lower than its estimated market value.
The sale to a consortium of investors means Yandex’s Russian business is now a fully Russian-owned entity.
The firm has previously been accused of hiding information about the war in Ukraine from the Russian public.
Moscow has welcomed the latest deal which the company said was “the product of an extensive period of planning and negotiation over more than 18 months”.
“This is exactly what we wanted to achieve a few years ago when Yandex was under threat of being taken over by Western IT giants,” said Anton Gorelkin, deputy head of the Russian parliament’s committee on information policy.
“Yandex is more than a company, it is an asset of the entire Russian society,” he added.
Set up in the dotcom boom in the late 1990s, Yandex developed its own search engine, mapping and advertising businesses. Other services include taxis and food delivery.
The $5.2bn deal is believed to be significantly lower than Yandex’s market value, which was estimated to be almost $30bn in 2021.
Despite its nickname of ‘Russia’s Google’, Yandex has no ties to the US search engine giant or its parent company Alphabet.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many foreign-owned businesses have exited the country, often selling assets on unfavourable terms.
Russian president Vladimir Putin also ordered the seizure of others, such as assets belonging to Western brands Danone and Carlsberg.
Yandex’s co-founder, Arkady Volozh, is one of very few top Russia-linked businessmen to have publicly spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He left the firm in 2022.
The company and Mr Volozh have been hit with sanctions by the European Union, which in 2022 said Yandex is “responsible for promoting [Russian] state media and narratives in its search results, and deranking and removing content critical of the Kremlin, such as content related to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine”.
Mr Volozh is seeking a European Union court to remove sanctions as he says he was never close to the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
To comply with the Russian government’s demands over its content, Yandex sold some of its online resources to state-controlled rival VK in late 2022.
Even though Yandex presents itself as independent of the authorities, experiments by BBC Monitoring in 2022 showed that its search results failed to report Russian atrocities in Ukrainian city of Bucha.
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