The Kremlin is looking for buyers of Russia’s internet giant Yandex who would later sell the company to a Kremlin-linked oligarch sanctioned by the West, independent media reported, citing several anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
The Bell business outlet and the news website Meduza said the search follows a breakdown of Yandex’s Dutch-registered holding company’s previous talks to sell its revenue-generating businesses and fully exit Russia.
The latest report says Kremlin First Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Kiriyenko offered Yandex’s corporate development adviser Alexei Kudrin three new potential buyers in June after Yandex’s board rejected a previous trio of would-be buyers over sanctions risks.
One of the new candidates, investor Ivan Tavrin, is the only Russian figure who would fit the Kremlin’s requirement for a reliable investor and Yandex’s demand for a buyer not under Western sanctions, according to The Bell and Meduza.
Kiriyenko had reportedly offered Tavrin’s candidacy alongside the businessman and State Duma deputy Alexei Nechayev, the state-affiliated Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Gazprom’s pension fund Gazfond.
These “middlemen” would then be asked to re-sell their Yandex shares to Kremlin-linked billionaire banker Yury Kovalchuk at an undefined later date, said two unnamed sources familiar with the talks.
Kovalchuk, a close friend of President Vladimir Putin, is the co-owner of VK — another Russian tech company — which is headed by Kiriyenko’s son.
Tavrin previously sold a popular non-state broadcaster to Kovalchuk’s National Media Group in 2018.
“Tavrin is interested in any asset that he could then transfer at a profit, doesn’t matter to whom,” said an unnamed source familiar with the talks.
Tavrin’s unnamed confidante told The Bell and Meduza there were no “specific talks” about the deal. The other candidates declined to respond to the outlets’ requests for comment.
Yandex’s board had reportedly rejected the candidacies of tycoons Vladimir Potanin, Alexei Mordashov and VTB Bank because they are under Western sanctions. Oil tycoon Vagit Alekperov, another initial candidate, pulled out of the deal over fears of being sanctioned by the West, according to The Bell and Meduza.
The outlets report that the outcome of the Kremlin’s latest talks with Russia-based Yandex is still up in the air.
“Colleagues no longer really believe that the sale will take place at all,” said a source close to Yandex’s management.
“Many are discussing the promised nationalization as a very real scenario,” they added.