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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

U.S. Big Tech Could Learn From Russia's Yandex

Silicon Valley should pay attention to how the firm dodged tighter Kremlin control by yielding some power to outside interests.

Keeping the state at bay.

Keeping the state at bay.

Photographer: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Yandex NV, Russia’s biggest technology company, has figured out how to avoid nationalization or a foreign ownership ban. Big Tech in the U.S. should pay attention: The governance scheme Yandex appears to have worked out in consultation with the Russian government could be a good solution for companies that are de facto public utilities under private control.

Yandex, set up in 2000 to monetize a search engine developed in the 1990s by the team of co-founder Arkady Volozh, is as close as it gets in Russia to a Silicon Valley-style internet giant. For a long time, it mainly aped Google’s services for the Russian market, but it has grown into a conglomerate that developed or bought up other businesses, from marketplaces to delivery projects. It’s not just Russia’s Google but Russia’s Amazon and Russia’s Uber, too (it first outcompeted Uber’s Russian operation, then swallowed it up). In fact, when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a “sovereign internet” law earlier this year, officially meant to keep web services functioning inside Russia should the U.S. cut the country off from the worldwide computer network, many said Yandex would be that “sovereign internet.”