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Yuri Milner and a Free Russian Internet

Owen Matthews has an interesting article on Yuri Milner of Digital Sky Technologies – Facebook investor, former Khodorkovsky employee, and the new face of modern Russian business.   Click here to read our last posting on him.  You can also watch him hanging out and giggling with Mark Zuckerburg here.  Despite his allegedly close relations with Time magazine’s other person of the year, most observers don’t think there’s anything to be worried about yet.

The surprising thing is that the Internet oligarchs seem–so far–to leave free speech alone.

“A year ago when DST first bought into Facebook, they seemed to be buying at above-market prices, and I wrote then that this is not a commercial deal–there is something else going on here,” says Anton Nosik, Russia’s leading blogger. “But now it seems that they were right. Facebook is now valued at $50 billion, five times its price in 2009. And it’s hard to argue that this is about anything but the money.”

In fact, LiveJournal has become one of the fewplaces were the Kremlin’s most outspoken critics can vent their views,organize protest marches, and share videos of police violence andillegal behavior by bureaucrats. Indeed Ru.net, as the Russian Internetis known, has become the center not only of unfocused anti-regimediscontent but also of an increasingly effective protest movement. (…)

“Milner is doing it for the money–there’s no political agenda,” saysEdward Shenderovich, managing director of Kite Ventures, a London-basedInternet investment company with many Russian clients. The secret ofMilner’s success, according to Shenderovich, is that he lavished moneyon his Russian startups without demanding preferred stock or guaranteedreturns–and when he turned to investments outside Russia, he didn’tdemand management control but instead chose companies whose managementhe trusted. DST has no board seat on Facebook, for instance.