The translated statement says “some VK applications are blocked by Apple” but that it will “continue to develop and support iOS applications.” The Russian Ministry of Digital Affairs told state-controlled media outlet RT that it was investigating “the reasons for deleting VK applications and developer accounts, underlining the social significance and scale of use of the services provided by the Russian company.” The apps are still available on Google’s Play Store.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, its government has blocked several American social media sites, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The US and other governments have sanctioned many Russian-government-affiliated individuals and businesses, including VK Group CEO and Putin ally Vladimir Kiriyenko. VKontakte was created in 2006 by Pavel Durov, who was eventually pushed out of the company, saying there would be no going back “after I publicly refused to cooperate with the authorities. They can’t stand me.” He then focused on his encrypted messaging app, Telegram.
Apple removing VK’s apps means that Russian iPhone users no longer have access to the app for the fifth most popular site in the country, according to SimilarWeb, as well as other apps from VK like Mail.ru, VK Music, and Youla classifieds. The company told Russian news outlet Interfax that the apps may continue to work but that there could be issues with notifications and payments.
Interfax also reports on Tuesday that VK sold off the assets of its gaming division, My.Games to LETA Capital head Alexander Chachava, a Russian businessman who is based in the Cayman Islands and managed to come up with $642 million to close the deal. It will continue to be run by executives who were already in place, and VK had touted it as a Russian alternative to Steam and Epic Games Store after sanctions blocked many digital games sales in the country.
VK’s apps once had a very prominent place on the iPhone. Last year, a law went into effect that required technology companies to pre-install Russian-made apps on devices sold in the country. Apple complied by adding a screen to the iPhone’s setup process that showed users a list of apps from Russian companies that they could download. Included on the list were several apps from VK, including its social network, email client, and a digital assistant.
Update September 27th, 9:07PM ET: Added context about VK’s apps being included in the iPhone’s setup process in Russia.