Zuckerberg visits Russia, meets with Medvedev

Amdrew E. Kramer / New York Times News Service /

MOSCOW — The hoodie stayed back at the hotel when Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, met Russia’s prime minister and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, on Monday.

“Good conversation with Prime Minister Medvedev,” Zuckerman wrote on his Facebook wall beside a picture of the two, in suits and grinning, at the Russian leader’s residence outside Moscow.

Zuckerberg also visited Red Square — in his hoodie — ate at McDonald’s and helped judge a competition for Russian programmers under way in Moscow in his first visit to Russia, a country that is in important ways pivotal for Facebook.

One of Google’s founders, Sergey Brin, is Russian. For Facebook, the tie is more oblique: The country is an important test case for the balancing act Facebook is undertaking as a new media company in countries that are important commercially but have traditionally heavily regulated their old media, if not censored it. And two of Facebook’s largest investors are Russian.

Zuckerberg and Medvedev talked about Facebook’s role in politics, though only jokingly in reference to its importance in the U.S. presidential campaign, according to Medvedev’s press office.

They also discussed copyright rules and high-tech business. Zuckerberg gave the Russian leader a T-shirt; the meeting lasted about 20 minutes.

Facebook, in Russia as elsewhere, plays a double role as a tool for posting silly party pictures and a tool for political organizing.

Facebook played an integral role in political dissent in Russia last winter, allowing street protests to coalesce when handing out fliers or posting notices on corkboards would not have worked.

Russia is also home to two large and early Facebook investors, Alisher Usmanov, a steel tycoon, and Yuri Milner, an expert on monetizing social network traffic in emerging markets. The two partly cashed out in the initial public offering of Facebook stock earlier this year but still own billions of dollars’ worth of shares.