Russia has placed a communications spokesperson for a big name American tech platform on its ‘wanted’ list, as the Putin regime continues to try land a blow against Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta Platforms.

The Associated Press, citing Russian state agency Tass and independent news outlet Mediazona, reported that Meta’s spokesman Andy Stone had been placed on a wanted list last year, according to an online database maintained by the country’s interior ministry.

Tensions escalated between the Putin regime and mostly American-based tech platforms in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Illegal invasion

Russia was widely condemned for its illegal invasion of Ukraine, and crippling sanctions were soon applied, and big name tech firms began withdrawing from the country.

In early March 2022 Russia opened a criminal case against Meta, after the social networking giant said it would temporarily allow some “calls for violence” on Facebook and Instagram, in the context of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

This included calls for violence against Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as Russian soldiers invading the country.

Meta’s policy move came after multiple reports emerged of war crimes committed by the Russian military – stoking global public anger against Russia and President Putin.

After that policy change by Meta, Russia banned Instagram as well, which had been used and was popular with Russian citizens.

It should be remembered that Russia’s communications regulator (Roskomnadzor) had already blocked Facebook, after Meta had restricted access to Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik in the European Union.

Terrorist firm?

A week after its policy change, Meta subsequently banned calls for death for heads of state, but it said at the time it would still allow other ‘calls for violence’.

In October 2022 Meta Platforms was declared a terrorist organisation by the Russian regime.

That designation meant that it was now a criminal offence for Russian citizens to access Instagram or Facebook, even via a virtual private network (VPN), demand for which skyrocketed as Russian citizens sought to bypass Moscow’s censorship measures.

It also opened the way for possible criminal proceedings against any Russian residents using Meta’s Facebook or Instagram.

According to the AP report, the Russian interior ministry’s database doesn’t give details of the case against Stone, stating only that he is wanted on criminal charges.

Meta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, AP reported.

According to Mediazona, an independent news website that covers Russia’s opposition and prison system, Stone was put on the wanted list in February 2022, but authorities made no related statements at the time and no news media reported on the matter until this week.

Tech bans

A court in Moscow has previously rejected a request by Meta Platforms to dismiss extremism charges against it, and in April 2022, Russia also formally barred Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg from entering the country.

Meanwhile western social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and X (aka Twitter) had been popular with young Russians before the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but have since been blocked in the country as part Moscow’s propaganda efforts. They are now only accessible via VPN.

WhatsApp, which had been the country’s most popular messaging platform, was blocked in Russia in March 2023, alongside Snapchat, Discord, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Telegram.

In October this year a Russian senator for the ruling United Russia party was quoted as saying that that Roskomnadzor plans to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from 1 March 2024.

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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