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The Kremlin Tried to Use VKontakte—Russia’s Facebook—to Spy on Ukrainians

Anti-government protesters online at a barricade in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 5
Anti-government protesters online at a barricade in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 5Photograph by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine expanded beyond geography and into social networks last year, when Moscow officials tried to collect personal data on Ukrainians who joined social media groups protesting the country’s pro-Russian former president.

Pavel Durov, founder and chief executive officer of Russia’s largest social media website, VKontakte, claims he refused a demand by the Federal Security Service—the KGB’s successor agency—to turn over details on members of 39 protest groups with VKontakte pages. Durov posted a copy of the demand on his website, a document apparently sent by the agency’s St. Petersburg office on Dec. 13. That was three weeks after Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, snubbed a European trade agreement in favor of closer ties with the Russian government, sparking protests that led to his ouster in February.