August 10, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Founder of Russian internet giant Yandex denounces Ukraine invasion

Institute for the Study of War

The Wagner Group continues to maintain a presence at facilities in Belarus and the status of its rumored withdrawal to Russia remains unclear. Satellite imagery collected on August 9 shows a significant number of vehicles at the Wagner camp in Tsel, Asipovichy, Belarus, and may even indicate that more vehicles have arrived at the base between August 1 and August 9. Ukrainian sources continue to report about expanding Wagner activity in Brest Oblast, and a Wagner-affiliated source posted footage on August 10 showing that Wagner instructors continue to train Belarusian military personnel. The Wagner-affiliated source amplified a denial from an alleged Wagner fighter wherein the fighter stated that the speculations are “fantasies,” although he acknowledged that many Wagner fighters themselves often do not learn about their deployments until the last moment. ISW has not observed counter-indicators that would refute recent speculation from August 8 that Wagner bussed 500 to 600 personnel from Belarus to Krasnodar Krai and Voronezh and Rostov oblasts, however. Russian sources speculated that Wagner forces plan to conduct the second stage of their alleged withdrawal from Belarus on August 13 but that a small group of Wagner instructors would remain in Belarus to train Belarusian forces.

Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and advanced in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on August 10. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations in the Bakhmut, Berdyansk (Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area), and Melitopol (western Zaporizhia Oblast) directions. Geolocated footage published on August 10 suggests that Ukrainian forces crossed the Mokri Yaly River and advanced eastward into the southwestern outskirts of Urozhaine (9km south of Velyka Novosilka) in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces achieved partial successes in the direction of Urozhaine and south and southeast of Staromayroske (9km south of Velyka Novosilka).

The Kremlin is likely attempting to crypto-nationalize Russian internet giant Yandex to strengthen control over the Russian information space in preparation for the 2024 Russian presidential election. Yandex has likely been trying to balance between the Kremlin and its foreign governing bodies but now appears to be losing the battle to the Kremlin. The Kremlin appears to be forcing Yandex to sell or distance itself from international subsidiaries, including rideshare service Yango Israel, in order to comply with strict Russian data disclosure laws requiring Yandex to supply all user data – not just data of users in Russia – to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). The Russian government has previously fined Yandex for failing to comply with this law despite Yandex’s statements that it is unable to provide the requested data. The Russian government also previously fined Yandex CEO Artem Savinovsky for Yandex’s failure to comply with Russian censorship laws, possibly trying to compel Yandex into complying with Russian censorship laws not just in Russia but globally to undermine its global operations and userbase. Yandex officials have previously stated that Yandex aims to follow the laws within each country it operates and have rebuked Russian datamining efforts by claiming it only provides user data to governments of users in that specific country. Some Russian insider sources speculated that Yandex corporate development advisor Alexey Kudrin attempted and failed to turn Yandex into a national private company that Putin’s reported personal banker Yuri Kovalchuk would control. Yandex founder and former CEO Arkady Volozh publicly decried the invasion of Ukraine on August 10, and some Russian insider sources speculated that Volozh’s statement was a “white flag” showing that he had accepted that the Kremlin would likely go forward with its speculated formal nationalization effort. Reuters reported that its sources within Yandex fear a “brain drain” if the Kremlin nationalizes Yandex, as many Yandex employees left Russia following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Kremlin is likely aware of this concern as investors affiliated with Kremlin officials rather than Russian government entities have recently made bids to purchase Yandex.

Key Takeaways: 

  • The Wagner Group continues to maintain a presence at facilities in Belarus and the status of its rumored withdrawal to Russia remains unclear.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has yet to comment on these speculations either directly or through intermediary sources as he has done previously, suggesting that Prigozhin may not be entirely at liberty to comment on the future of Wagner.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and advanced in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area on August 10.
  • A Russian milblogger accused Russian military personnel of fabricating or embellishing claims of Russian forces destroying Ukrainian vehicles in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces conducted another series of missile and drone strikes in Ukraine overnight on August 9-10.
  • The Kremlin is likely attempting to crypto-nationalize Russian internet giant Yandex to strengthen control over the Russian information space in preparation for the 2024 Russian presidential election.
  • The possible transfer of Yandex to affiliates of Russian First Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Sergey Kiriyenko suggests that Putin seeks to reward Kiriyenko for his personal loyalty, particularly following the June 24 Wagner Group rebellion.
  • Affiliates of arrested former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer and ardent ultranationalist Igor Girkin continue to explicitly attack the Kremlin on August 10.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on August 10 and made some advances.
  • Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and advanced in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhia Oblast border area on August 10.
  • Russian officials continue to highlight the claimed success of the Russian defense industrial base (DIB).
  • A Ukrainian military official reported that Russian forces are co-opting civilian infrastructure for the repression of local populations in the occupied territories.
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