“The seizure of Google Russia’s bank account by the Russian authorities has rendered the operations of our Russian office untenable, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and fulfilling other financial obligations,” a Google spokeswoman said Julie Tarallo McAlister.
Silicon Valley companies rewrote their rules during the war in Ukraine. Russia strikes back.
Google’s bankruptcy filing is the latest development in a tumultuous back-and-forth between the Silicon Valley tech giant and the Russian government.
The company halted sales of advertising and cloud-computing services in Russia in March, part of a wave of US companies that pulled out of Ukraine’s operations in the weeks following Russia’s invasion. Gmail, YouTube, Maps and Search have continued to run and will continue to do so because “people in Russia rely on our services to access quality information,” the spokesman said.
Google has also pulled out of Russia its Russian employees who have chosen to stay with the company, the company confirmed on Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the employees’ move.
Russia has long used censorship and propaganda to shape public opinion, but US-based social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube operated relatively freely for years, and Russians used them to freely share their political opinions. In 2021, Russia passed a law requiring tech companies to keep employees in the country, a move widely seen as a way to increase their leverage over them.
Some Russians break through Putin’s digital Iron Curtain – leading to fights with friends and family
Before invading Ukraine, Russia had already harnessed that power, sending agents to the home of a Google executive in Russia as part of government efforts to remove an app owned by opposition leader Alexei Navalny from Google’s app store, the Washington Post reported in March . Google shut down the app.
In December, Russia fined Google nearly $100 million for failing to remove content the government said was illegal. The company has received various smaller fines in the past, but the new fine, which is calculated based on Google’s revenue, was a significant escalation.
After Russia attacked Ukraine, tensions entered a new phase.
Under intense pressure from Ukraine and Western governments, Google, Twitter and Facebook restricted the Kremlin’s global propaganda networks to their platforms in the weeks following the February 24 invasion. YouTube removed hundreds of channels and videos, saying they broke rules against “coordinated fraudulent practices.”
Putin’s pre-war moves against US tech giants laid the groundwork for a crackdown on free speech
Soon after, in early March, Google announced it would stop all search, YouTube and display ads in Russia after authorities asked it to block Ukraine-related ads. It also removed state-controlled Russian media RT and Sputnik from their search results in the European Union in response to a government regulation there, the company announced.
Moscow’s telecoms regulator has fired back by releasing statements calling on Google to reinstate Russian channels and accusing Google of siding with Ukraine in the information war. But while Russia has banned Twitter and Facebook, so far it has allowed YouTube to continue operating, and on Tuesday a state official said the government had no plans to ban it, according to Tass news agency.
YouTube is the most popular social network in Russia and is used by millions for daily entertainment, while Twitter, Facebook and Instagram had smaller user bases and were more popular with younger Russians. Russia-based social networks VK and Odnoklassniki have been more amenable to state censorship, according to Russians who use the platforms.
Google has also been subject to various fines in Russia. In late April, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of 500 million rubles owned by Google, worth about $7 million at the time, in a lawsuit that arose from restrictions the US tech company imposed on a prominent television company’s YouTube channel had Reuters.