Apple has removed Russia’s answer to Facebook from its app store, reportedly to comply with British sanctions against Russian owned entities.

Apple removed VKontakte, a top Russian social media platform, from its app store, according to a blog post by the app developer.

And what is more, Apple’s decision has also impacted other iOS apps produced by VKontakte’s parent, the technology giant VK.

VK removed

“Now some VK applications are blocked by Apple, so they are not available for download and update in the App Store,” VK wrote in the blog post, CNN reported.

Existing installations of those apps should continue to function normally, VK added.

VK apps cover a range of services including email, food delivery and digital payments.

And Vkontakte is not some trivial app, as it is the fifth-largest website overall by traffic in Russia, by some estimates CNN reported.

The company’s social network has 97 million monthly users worldwide, while its email service, Mail.ru, has 46 million users within Russia.

Russia of course has already forced all significant independent Russian media outlets to close and has blocked or restricted American social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

However Google’s YouTube platform is still not blocked by Russian authorities.

Roskomnadzor demand

Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor on Wednesday demanded an explanation from Apple, Reuters reported.

The Russian regulator has for the past couple of years being levelling fines against Western tech firms.

Roskomnadzor said Apple’s actions had deprived millions of Russians of access to VK apps and demanded that Apple explain its decision.

UK sanctions

However Apple has already provided its explanation.

The iPhone maker said it had taken the decision in order to comply with the UK’s newly issued sanctions against Russian entities, and is a sign that the West is not backing down from Vladimir Putin’s recent nuclear threats, sham referendums, and the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic sea.

The UK government on Monday had announced it was targeting dozens of Russian elites in response to Russia’s “illegal sham referendums in Ukraine” that claimed to show support for Ukraine’s integration with Russia.

The UK said the Russian regime imposing the sham referendums in 4 regions of Ukraine (where votes are reportedly carried out at gunpoint), is a clear violation of international law, including the UN charter.

“Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognise their results,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.” They follow a clear pattern of violence, intimidation, torture, and forced deportations in the areas of Ukraine Russia has seized.”

Apple said it follows laws in the jurisdictions where it operates, Reuters reported.

Apple said the apps in question were being distributed by developers majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government.

Regardless of location, the apps cannot be downloaded from any App store, said Apple, which terminated the developer accounts associated with the apps to comply with UK sanctions.

No more updates

Reuters reported that state-controlled VK had tightened its grip on Russia’s internet space this month by finalising a deal to buy rival Yandex’s news aggregator, content platform Zen and yandex.ru homepage.

VK CEO Vladimir Kiriyenko is under UK sanctions, along with his father Sergei Kiriyenko, who serves as President Vladimir Putin’s first deputy chief of staff.

Roskomnadzor called the restrictions “discriminatory” and said they violated Russian internet users’ right to free information and communication.

VK has said that its apps, including Vkontakte, will continue to work if already installed on smartphones, and that it was continuing to develop and support apps for Apple’s iOS operating system.

Roskomnadzor also asked Apple to explain its removal of other apps, including those of airline Aeroflot and a number of banks such as top lenders Sberbank and VTB.

Apple in March this year halted all sales of its devices in Russia, after that country’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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