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May 17 (Reuters) - Russia is not planning to block Alphabet Inc's YouTube, the minister for digital development said on Tuesday, acknowledging that such a move would likely see Russian users suffer and should therefore be avoided.
Russia has blocked other foreign social media platforms, but despite months of fines and threats against YouTube for failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal and for restricting access to some Russian media, it has stopped short of delivering a killer blow to the video-hosting service.
With around 90 million monthly users in Russia, YouTube is extremely popular and plays an important role in the digital economy. Though Russia has domestic versions of other social media, a viable YouTube alternative on that scale is yet to emerge.
"We are not planning to close YouTube," Maksut Shadaev, who is also minister of communications and mass media, told an educational forum. "Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won't suffer."
Competition is the engine of progress and blocking is an extreme measure, he told a vast auditorium of mostly young Russians, some scattered around the room on bean bags.
Alphabet's Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simmering tensions between Moscow and Big Tech erupted into a full-on information battle after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia restricted access to Twitter and Meta Platform's Facebook and Instagram in early March. It vowed in April to punish Google for shutting out Russian state-funded media globally on YouTube, accusing it of spreading fakes about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.
Meta was found guilty of "extremist activity" in March, a ruling the company objected to, but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday said he would not rule out the return of Instagram, provided Meta complies with Russian laws on content and local offices.
GLOBAL INTERNET TO STAY
Shadaev also poured cold water on suggestions that Russia may seek to isolate itself further from global internet infrastructure, something it disconnected itself from during tests last summer.
"We do not want to close ourselves off from anyone," Shadaev said. "On the contrary, we think that Russia should remain a part of the global network." (Reporting by Reuters)