Pressure mounts to include Russia’s tech giant Yandex in the EU sanction list – EURACTIV

***This article was updated with a comment from Yandex.***

A group of progressive MEPs are preparing to question the European Commission on why Russia’s largest technology company has been excluded from the sanctions list so far, while Baltic states are planning to raise the point in the Council discussions.

Yandex is the second largest search engine in Russia regarding market share and provides several online services, including advertising, mobility apps and navigation. The company also offers ride-hailing services in several EU countries.

These mobility services will be questioned by a group of Spanish MEPs on the initiative of Inma Rodríguez-Piñero, according to a request for a written answer seen by EURACTIV and expected to be published shortly.

The EU lawmakers point to the collaboration between the tech giant and the Russian regime, referring to a case documented by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) where opposition activist Ivan Golunov was arrested on preposterous charges thanks to data provided by Yandex’s mobility app.

“Yandex.Taxi complies with all the laws in each country of operations. In some cases, Yandex.Taxi must consider formal official requests from local law enforcement agencies, asking for information,” a Yandex spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The same RUSI report notes that the massive amounts of data collected via the ride-sharing apps raise serious concerns “that authoritarian governments can demand access to the data to, for example, track specific citizens or groups in other countries.”

Several EU governments have already revoked the license for the Russian mobility app. On Monday (7 March), mobility colossus Uber announced the withdrawal from a partnership with Yandex in 2017.

The parliamentary questions ask the Commission whether the revoking of Yandex’s license should not occur at the EU level and demand an explanation for not including the tech giant in the list of Russian companies sanctioned following the invasion of Ukraine.

The MEPs also invite the European Commission to collaborate with African countries on reporting on Yandex’s use of data, given the growing presence of the Russian company in the African markets.

“We do not comment on persons/entities who might have been considered for designation. All decisions on imposing new sanctions are made by Member States in the Council through consensus, but nothing is off the table,” Peter Stano, EU Spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, told EURACTIV.

Voices supporting the sanctioning of Yandex at the EU level might not be limited to the European Parliament. Baltic states are also planning on raising this point in the context of the European Council, an EU diplomatic source told EURACTIV, although the question is not officially on the table just yet.

On 28 February, Pärtel-Peeter Pere, a member of Tallin’s city council, called on the Estonian government to ban Yandex’s taxi service and other economic activities.

EURACTIV understands that the request is likely to receive the support of Poland, as the country has so far been supporting far-reaching sanctions against Russian entities.

The mobility service is not the only thing to raise concerns about the Russian company. On 1 March, Yandex’s former head of news division Lev Gershenzon published a Facebook post pointing the finger at the company’s complicit role in spreading the Kremlin’s propaganda on the Ukrainian war.

“The fact that a significant part of the Russian population may believe that there is no war is the basis and driving force of this war. Today, Yandex is a key element in hiding information about the war. Every day and every hour of such “news” costs human lives,” reads the translation of the post provided by journalist Ilya Lozovsky.

The representative from Yandex stressed that according to Russian law, any news aggregator with a daily audience of 1 million people, is obligated to show only those publishers that are listed in the official register of Russia’s media regulator, known as Roskomnadzor.

“The algorithm determines what goes into the top Yandex.News page by prioritizing the licensed media with the most citations, the fastest speed of news delivery, and the greatest audience engagement,” the spokesperson said.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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