By Alexander Marrow, Darya Korsunskaya and Polina Devitt
MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian internet giant Yandex’s Dutch holding company on Friday said it planned to divest ownership and control of most of Yandex Group, with the international divisions of some services to be developed outside Russia.
Since Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine in late February, Nasdaq-listed Yandex, often referred to as “Russia’s Google”, has grappled with domestic pressure on one side and its Western investors on the other, prompting speculation about its future.
Dutch-registered Yandex N.V. said in a statement it was reviewing options to “restructure the group’s ownership and governance in light of the current geopolitical environment”. Yandex’s Moscow-listed shares fell 4.8%.
The announcement came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin addressed Yandex’s future in a late-night meeting, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Sources told Reuters that Kudrin, a long-time colleague of the president, is expected to leave his role as head of Russia’s Audit Chamber to take up a position with Yandex. One of the sources said that could happen in the coming weeks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not confirm whether the meeting had taken place or not. The Audit Chamber declined to comment.
“Kudrin is someone who the company feel is a good person to navigate this because he is liberal enough to understand that Russia needs a private internet company, free from nationalisation, and who has credibility in Putin’s eyes,” one of the sources said.
Another source, close to Kudrin, said: “This is the best option for the company, which can provide it with maximum business neutrality. On the one hand, to continue developing in the country … and on the other, not to lie under state (control).”
Almost 88% of Yandex’s ownership structure is free-float, with many Western funds among shareholders.
Yandex has faced criticism this year for complying with Russian law in restricting access to online resources banned by the state. In February, Yandex, which has denied being complicit in censorship, started warning Russian users seeking information about events in Ukraine of unreliable information online.
The Russian government in September tightened its grip on the internet, when Yandex sold its news feed and homepage to state-controlled rival VK.
Yandex N.V. said the strategic process was at a preliminary stage and that any changes would ultimately require shareholder approval. The board expects Yandex N.V. to be renamed in due course, with the business to be divested retaining exclusive rights for the use of the Yandex brand.
The company has set up a special committee charged with exploring various scenarios, including developing the international divisions of Yandex’s self-driving technologies cloud computing, data labelling, and edtech independently from Russia.
The Dutch parent said it would seek to divest ownership and control of all Yandex Group’s other businesses, which include the company’s dominant search and advertising unit, as well as ride-hailing and e-commerce.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Darya Korsunskaya and Polina Devitt; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)