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Yandex founder Arkady Volozh is building a cloud service platform for developers
#1    Yandex founder launches new Amsterdam-based AI venture after Russia divestment
Arkady Volozh is building an AI cloud infrastructure for developers

July 16, 2024 - 5:12 pm    Yandex founder Arkady Volozh is building a cloud service platform for developers to train artificial intelligence models. Named Nebius Group, the company says its aim is to become a European global leader in AI infrastructure.

The launch follows news from yesterday that Yandex had successfully sold its Russian assets in a $5.4bn deal, in what constitutes the largest corporate exit from the country since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine over two years ago.

Yandex was a rare Russian tech success story. The most talented developers in the country came together to build a company that went on to give tech giants such as Google a run for their money.

Volozh says his new venture, which will employ 1,300 people, will house mostly former Yandex employees. Indeed, the founder described the team of engineers — over 1,000 — as the company’s “greatest asset.”

“Europe’s challenge in the global AI race is competing for talent. This is what we have — very smart and talented people, capable of creating essential innovative technologies,” Volozh said in a statement.


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Nebius says it will build “technology for technologists,” or T2T. The new business’ core product will be an AI-centric cloud platform for intense AI workloads.

This will incorporate a network of large GPU clusters and is intended to “give AI developers the compute, storage, managed services, and tools they need to successfully train, develop, and run their models.”

Furthermore, Nebius Group will build three other businesses under individual brands. One will focus on data for generative AI. The other is an edtech business in the US reskilling people to work in tech. The third will develop self-driving technology for cars and delivery robots. 

The company says its vision will require “substantial capital investments,” including a variety of funding sources. Following the divestment from Russia, the company says it has $2.5bn in total cash, and no debt.

‘Russia’s Google’ and its complicated relationship to the state
When I was living in Moscow in the 2010s, everybody used Yandex for search, maps, news, and its ride-hailing taxi service.

At the end of 2020, Yandex introduced autonomous delivery robots. In March 2021, the company also launched its own payment service, Yandex Pay. 

In February 2022, the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and changed the fate of Yandex and its over 20,000 employees (along with generations of Ukrainians).

The EU initially included the Yandex co-founder and CEO in its list of sanctioned Russian businessmen. However, regulators removed him from the list in March this year, after he stepped down from his role as chief executive.

It should be noted that Arkady Volozh is one of only a few prominent Russian businessmen who has condemned the war.

“I am horrified about the fate of people in Ukraine — many of them my personal friends and relatives — whose houses are being bombed every day,” the tech billionaire said in a statement in August last year, having previously removed almost all mentions of Russia from his personal bio.

However, one should also not ignore the fact that Yandex was for a long time tied to Russia’s state-owned Sberbank — or that it appears to collaborate closely with Russia’s internet surveillance body to quell political dissent and bury factual information about the war.

Divesting from state-control
Yandex and Sberbank had a partnership that lasted over 10 years and included a golden share for the bank which allowed it to, among other things, veto all decisions for the company. When the two parted ways after increasingly souring relations, Sberbank agreed to sell the golden share to Yandex.

However, in 2019, Yandex transferred the golden share to an NGO with public participation control in order to alleviate Kremlin fears that the company could fall under “foreign influence” — and investor concern that the state could potentially seize it to stop the aforementioned from happening.

There is no such thing as large-scale business in Russia without the authorities’ say-so. Brussels might be somewhat tedious and bureaucratic in its regulatory approach, but no one needs to fear having their assets seized on fake charges and thrown into prison for expressing criticism of the Commission’s policies.

Let’s see what Volozh and 1,000 Yandex AI engineers can build in Europe.

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