Russian investment in Facebook, Twitter go way back — but Yuri Milner says so what

As investigations continue into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections — and the use of Facebook and Twitter to help facilitate it — now there’s a report that Kremlin money helped back the two social media companies through investments by Yuri Milner.

Yuri Milner’s name is familiar to Silicon Valley tech observers. It’s well-known that the Russian investor has helped bankroll tech’s big social media companies and many other well-known companies, such as Airbnb, Zynga, Groupon, 23andMe and more.

Milner has hit back at a report over the weekend by the New York Times that says DST Global, his investment company — which has since sold its investments in Facebook and Twitter — got backing from institutions controlled by the Russian government.

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“A few years ago, when I settled with my family in Silicon Valley, I found a community that didn’t care where you came from, only who you were and what you had to offer,” Milner said in an open statement, which was published by Recode. “Since the 2016 election, however, there has been a change in the air. Just to be Russian, suddenly, is to be under suspicion.”

Milner said DST Global’s investments were “motivated by pure business logic,” and that their timing (years before the 2016 presidential elections) shows they couldn’t have been related to any suspected meddling.

Echoing DST Global’s statement to the New York Times, Milner stressed “passive investor” status. He pointed out that DST asked for no board seats on Facebook and Twitter in connection with the investments, and that DST’s investors, including the state-owned bank mentioned by newspaper as a backer in the Twitter investment, were also passive investors.

In addition to his numerous tech investments, Milner founded or funded big initiatives such as the Breakthrough Prize for scientists and mathematicians, an effort that also involves Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan. Milner also gave $100 million to UC Berkeley for Breakthrough Listen, for helping the search for alien life.

As evidence of Russian-linked meddling into the U.S. presidential election via U.S. social networks keep trickling in — by exploiting Americans’ racial, cultural and political divisions — Milner’s statement suggests the political climate is also having an impact on his kids.

“To sum up: the theory that we made these investments to influence social media makes no logical sense, in terms of either motivations, actions, or results. Only a worldview that sees my nationality as inherently suspicious could find such a fairy-tale compelling. It is unpleasant to experience guilt by association, and frankly scary for my children to face suspicion in school on the grounds that their parents are Russian.”


Photo: Yuri Milner in 2010 in Munich, Germany. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)


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