Google’s Russian subsidiary plans to file for bankruptcy after the authorities seized its bank account following a series of clashes between Moscow and the US tech giant over content on its site.
Google told the Financial Times the seizure of its account had “made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russian-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors and meeting other financial obligations”.
Russia has repeatedly fined Google over the past year over its refusal to remove content that Moscow dislikes and deems illegal.
President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and severe new censorship laws have intensified government pressure on western social media platforms in recent months. The Russian authorities have accused Google’s YouTube of participating in an “information war” against Russia and fined the company for failing to delete “banned content” about the war in Ukraine.
YouTube has blocked Russian state-backed media channels since the outbreak of war after initially preventing them from advertising.
In a notice published on Wednesday on Fedresurs, Russia’s financial registry, Google’s Russian unit said it has foreseen since March 22 of this year “its own bankruptcy and the impossibility of fulfilling financial obligations”.
Despite the impending filing for bankruptcy, Google said it would continue to provide free services to users in Russia, including search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, Android and Play. YouTube is hugely popular in Russia and many people make a living through channels it carries.
Bailiffs were also sent to Google’s Russian division in late April over its failure to pay a $115mn fine imposed on the company by a Moscow court in December last year, the largest Russian fine yet against the US tech group.
Google’s parent company Alphabet has said that revenue from Russia last year came to about $2.6bn, or 1 per cent of its total, Reuters reported.
Russia has also banned Facebook and Instagram since the invasion of Ukraine, ruling that the platforms are “extremist” and blocking access to their sites, with varying degrees of success, in an attempt to control the information Russians receive online about the war.
In their place, it has sought to promote local alternatives, such as Facebook lookalike VKontakte and RuTube, a video hosting platform, both owned by the media holding company of Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom.