Russia demands an explanation after Apple removed its Facebook competitor from the App Store

Why it matters: Apple has removed Russia’s Facebook competitor VKontakte from the App Store worldwide, a move prompted by fresh British sanctions. It’s one of several apps from VK, Russia’s second largest internet company, that have been pulled from the Store and the country is demanding an explanation.

VK said on its website that its apps, including, VK Music and Youla classifieds, are blocked by Apple but will continue to work on devices that already have them installed. However, it warned that there could be “difficulties with notifications and payments”.

“In recent months, important updates have been implemented for our main products, which will allow the apps to remain relevant for a long time,” wrote VK. “Our experts do their best to maintain and keep improving the user experience.” The company recommends its social network’s 75 million monthly users to switch from the app to the mobile or desktop version of the site. The VK apps are still available in the Google Play Store.

Apple confirmed the reason for the removal in a statement, stating, “These apps are distributed by developers who are majority owned or controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government.”

“In order to comply with these sanctions, Apple has terminated the developer accounts associated with these apps, and the apps cannot be downloaded from any app store, regardless of location. Users who have already downloaded these apps can continue to use them.”

Like many other US tech companies, Apple suspended all product sales in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. However, it still allows the country access to the App Store. The new sanctions, which were introduced in parts of Ukraine after Russia’s sham referendums, affect 39 members of the management of the state-affiliated banks Gazprombank and Sberbank, who together own almost half of VK.

State-run TASS news agency reports that VK on Tuesday sold its gaming division to Cayman Islands businessman Alexander Chachava for $642 million.

Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Apple’s actions have barred millions of Russians from accessing VK apps and demanded an explanation of its decision.

The founders of VKontakte, brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, are also the founders of the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which has clashed with Putin’s government for years. Pavel Durov (above) left the UK and Russia after refusing to release Ukrainian protester data or block Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s UK page, The Reg notes.

Russia issued a veiled threat against SpaceX’s Starlink system last week, warning that its involvement in the Ukraine conflict could make the satellites a legitimate target. Russia demands an explanation after Apple removed its Facebook competitor from the App Store

Chris Barrese

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