Vkontakte is a staple of Russian social media with a simple concept: A "Russian Facebook" where people can "add friends," "send messages," and "post pictures" of what they had for lunch. 

 

However, Vkontakte, founded by Pavel Durov who also founded Telegram, is known to have ties to the Kremlin. So much so that Ukraine blocked Vkontakte during the beginning of Russia's invasion nine years ago.

 

Scrolling the Vkontakte comments, one can read the very one-sided nature of how Russians perceived the news and see what strong support there generally is for it. However, one bastion of new nationalistic opposition to the Putin government - coming from the ranks supporting Yevgeny Prigozhin - has disappeared.

 

Groups promoting Wagner Group or its leader have gone dark.

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A note now hangs on their pages saying, "This community has been blocked in compliance with a request from Roskomnadzor. Moderator's comment: This material is blocked at the request of Roskomnadzor based on the decision of the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation No. 27-31-2023/Treb431-23 dated 24.06.2023."

 

Roskomnadzor is the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications.

 

Perhaps not surprising given the close contact between Vkontake and the Kremlin, in light of the coup-attempt in June. But more surprising, is the size of the pro-Wagner groups.

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The decision was made by Russian-installed local deputies, supposedly following an appeal from dissatisfied Luhansk residents.

 

Some of the groups shuttered recently include:

 

  • Evgenii Prigozhin (PMC Wagner) – 372,000 followers
  • Orchestra Wagner – 250,000
  • PMC Wagner - Military Review – 403,000
  • Volunteers of Wagner – 7,000

 

In contrast, many pro-Putin groups have similar or substantially fewer followers, including some of the seemingly largest:

 

  • Putin Leader - 589,000;
  • Putin VV - 334,000;
  • I really like Putin! [Politics of Russia] - 71,000; and
  • Vladimir Vladimirovich today - 97,000.

 

Wagner pages have comparable numbers to those of the Russian Ministry of Defense, though defense minister Sergei Shoigu is notably unpopular on the social media site:

 

  • Russian Ministry of Defense's – 759,000;
  • Russian military intelligence (GUR) – 326,000
  • Sergei Shoigu – fewer than 5,000 members.

 

Comparing the high popularity of the pro-Prigozhin and Wagner groups and their subsequent blockage, George Mason University professor and Kremlinologist Mark N Katz says that this signifies "that Putin may have reason to fear his ability to retain influence over the 'patriotic' camp in Russia.”

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He adds: “Deleting Wagner from Vkontakte will not enhance Putin's reputation with this vital group that has been generally supportive of him in the past."

 

More alarmingly, for the Kremlin, is that many of the pro-Kremlin groups have existed for more than a decade-and-a-half, whereas most of the Prigozhin groups have come into existence only since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

 

Katz says: “The fact that Wagner had such a large following on Vkontakte shows that Prigozhin's 'nationalist but tell-it-like-it is' approach resonated with Russians far more than unquestioning pro-Putin nationalism."

 

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