Russia demands an explanation after Apple removes its Facebook competitor from the App Store

Apple has removed Russia’s Facebook competitor, VKontakte, from the App Store globally, a move prompted by new UK sanctions. It’s one of several apps from VK, Russia’s second-largest internet company, to have been dropped from the store, and the country is demanding an explanation.

VK said on its website that its apps, which include Mail.ru, VK Music, and Youla classifieds, are blocked by Apple but continue to work on devices that already have them installed. However, it did warn that there may be “be difficulties with notifications and payments.”

“In recent months, key updates have been implemented on our main products, which will allow the apps to remain relevant for a long time,” VK wrote. “Our experts are doing their best to maintain and continue to improve the user experience.” The company is recommending the 75 million monthly users of its social network switch from the app to the mobile or desktop version of the site. The VK apps are still available on the Google Play Store.

Apple confirmed the reason for the removal in a statement that reads, “These apps are being distributed by developers majority-owned or majority-controlled by one or more parties sanctioned by the UK government.”

“In order to comply with these sanctions, Apple terminated the developer accounts associated with these apps, and the apps cannot be downloaded from any App Store, regardless of location. Users who have already downloaded these apps may continue to use them.”

Like many other US tech companies, Apple paused all product sales in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. However, it continues to allow the country access to the App Store. The new sanctions, introduced following the sham referendums Russia held in parts of Ukraine, include 39 members of the leadership of the state-linked Gazprombank and Sberbank banks, who own just under half of VK between them.

State-owned news agency TASS reports that VK sold its gaming division to Cayman Islands-based businessman Alexander Chachava for $642 million on Tuesday.

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

VKontakte’s founders, brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, are also the founders of encrypted messaging app Telegram, which has spent years clashing with Putin’s government. Pavel Durov (above) left VK and Russia after refusing to hand over Ukrainian protester data or block Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s VK page, notes The Reg.

Russia made a veiled threat against SpaceX’s Starlink system last week, warning that its involvement in the Ukraine conflict could make the satellites a legitimate target.