Even as Russian authorities are taking unprecedented measures to silence opposition or even free expression, an “international VC and startup petition against the bloodshed in Ukraine” started circulating this weekend in the Russian and Belarusian tech business community.
Prominent tech investors from or connected with these countries signed the petition just hours after its release, as well as peers from western countries.
Published in four languages — Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian and English — the text “condemns the undergoing bloodshed and destructions on Ukrainian territory, and call for immediate cease fire and a negotiated solution.”
It also underlines the “devastating consequences” of the conflict in Russia and Belarus — a hint at the free fall of their economies as a result of the first sanctions, the new waves of repression and the moral shock that have hit these two countries.
The signatories of the petition call on the international VC and startup community to take an active stance — “for example, by donating funds to humanitarian organisations that provide assistance to the afflicted, in Ukraine in particular.” Several programs are cited as examples, including those of the Red Cross and the UNICEF, as well as the Airbnb initiative for hosting refugees.
Finally, the petition describes technology investment as a way to “unite people everywhere around creative, productive and peaceful goals.” It justly reminds that, “until recently, investors from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, repeatedly demonstrated adherence to healthy international business cooperation through joint deals and co-investment.”
Ukraine Digital News reported on such deals, which involved Russian and Ukrainian startup investors or entrepreneurs. These deals continued even after Russia’s first military interventions in Ukraine in 2014.
Shame or repression risks: the Russian VC dilemma
While using strong terms to describe the consequences of the conflict (“bloodshed,” tragedy,” “devastating consequences”), the petition cautiously abstains from any political assessment. The authors even describe its wording as being “compliant with current Russian legislation.”
“Signatories living in Russia and Belarus obviously need to be protected from extra legal exposure,” notes East-West Digital News co-founder Adrien Henni, who also signed the petition. “But even with the most careful wording, they’re taking personal risks in the current context.”
On the other hand, Henni explains, “the petition offers Russian and Belarusian VCs a space of expression to avoid having their name associated with Putin’s war, as anti-Russian feelings are mounting across the world.”
A “name-and-shame” web page is now circulating to denounce Russian VCs who support the war “either openly or by silence.” Only five explicit supporters of the war were identified as of March 6, while 62 tech investors made no comments or took an ambiguous position on the conflict. On the other side, 43 Russian or Russia-connected VCs expressed their opposition to the war.
A previous petition from the Russian IT community was launched in the first days of the war. After gathering as much as 33,494 signatures from IT workers, the initiative was suspended on March 4, following the adoption of a new law tightening censorship in Russia.