Russia Unveils Alternative App Store to Bypass Sanctions

The invasion of Ukraine has not finished having major repercussions, including in tech. One of the latest is Wednesday’s launch of RuStore, a local Russian alternative to Google’s mobile app store – the Play Store – which has largely become inoperative in the country due to Western sanctions.

This new app store was developed by VK, the group that dominates the local social media market. The “Russian Facebook” has benefited from the support of the government, the online search giant Yandex, the main national credit institution Sberbank and Russia’s cybersecurity flagship, Kaspersky. Its “RuStore” will run on Android, Google’s operating system which equips 8 out of ten phones in Russia according to StatCounter. Unlike its major competitor iOS, developed by Apple, Android does allow third-party stores.

Google cuts payments

The main challenge of the RuStore will be to attract developers, to offer consumers a wide choice of apps. For the launch, VK says the store has more than 100 apps, including some government services. The figure is derisory, compared to the 3.5 million apps that are now downloadable from the Google Play Store. But VK is hoping to see it take off, helped by the fact that Google’s store has become largely inoperative in Russia.

Since March, due to the financial sanctions imposed in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine – and in particular the suspension of the operations of the giant American payments Visa, MasterCard and American Express – Google has had to pause billing for its services in Russia. “This means that users cannot buy apps and games, subscribe to subscriptions or make any in-app payment”, explains Google. in a post for developers.

Free apps are still available for download. But since the beginning of May, all paid apps and their updates are no longer even available in Russia, as part of the American group’s “compliance efforts”.

The previous Huawei

Apple’s App Store is not a viable alternative for the Russian public. On the one hand, barely 20% are equipped with an iPhone. On the other hand, the apple group has also limited transactions in its app store in Russia – even if it did not give in to the injunctions of the Ukrainian government to cut off all access to the App Store from Russia . The Russian authorities are therefore counting on the creation of a local alternative ex-nihilo.

The maneuver seems more than ambitious, desperate. Previous attempts to impose a third-party app store have not been successful. The most recent comes from the Chinese giant Huawei, pushed into this entrenchment by US sanctions also who deprived him of Google’s software. Alas, despite the billions invested, his AppGallery struggles to convince developers and did not allow it to retain its customers and its market share in the West.

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Russia Unveils Alternative App Store to Bypass Sanctions

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