Uber looked to find 'someone aligned with Putin' and paid a pro-Kremlin lobbyist $300,000 as it sought to grow its influence in Russia, report says

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Uber looked to find 'someone aligned with Putin' and paid a pro-Kremlin lobbyist $300,000 as it sought to grow its influence in Russia, report says
Uber's offices in Queens, New YorkBrendan McDermid/Reuters
  • Uber in 2014 tried to find "someone aligned with Putin" to help grow the app's influence in Russia.
  • Head of business Emil Michael added he knew little about Russian politics, The Guardian reported.
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Uber sought to find "someone aligned with Putin" to spearhead its lobbying efforts in Russia in discussions about Moscow city officials' threats to ban the ride-sharing app in 2014, the company's former chief business officer said, per a Guardian report.

Emil Michael, the chief business officer at the time and a key ally of former CEO Travis Kalanick, acknowledged in the same conversation that he didn't know much about Russian politics, the report, part of the so-called "Uber Files" said.

In 2015, as it attempted to build its influence in the Russian market, Uber approached a key associate of oligarch Roman Abramovich in an attempt to get the billionaire to invest in the company, which it hoped would help gain favor with the Kremlin, the report said. Abramovich chose not to invest.

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Uber then approached a number of pro-Kremlin oligarchs, eventually securing deals as "strategic allies" with Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, Putin ally Alisher Usmanov, Alfa-Bank co-founder Mikhail Fridman, and investor Petr Aven.

All these men are Russian billionaires who were this year sanctioned by the EU following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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In 2016, the company struck a deal with Vladimir Senin, an influential lobbyist who is now a member of Russia's parliament. It initially agreed to pay him $650,000, though that fee was later lowered to $300,000, the Guardian reports.

Uber no longer has any association with Senin, and exited the Russian market in 2017. It maintains a relationship with Russian ride-sharing company Yandex.Taxi, but began winding down operations early in 2022 after the invasion of Ukraine.

An Uber spokesperson told The Guardian: "We certainly would not engage with Mr Senin or others like him today."

Uber's spokesperson added that the current Uber leadership "disavows any previous relationships with anyone connected to the Putin regime."

Michael, a member of the inner circle of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, resigned in 2017 amid an investigation into the company's work culture. He did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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The revelations emerged from a trove of documents leaked by former European lobbyist Mark MacGann, dubbed "The Uber Files."

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