A Russian Billionaire Is Giving Away Free iPhones For The Best Memes About A Dude He Hates

Petty level: Russian.

So back in March, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny published a big investigation into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, accusing him of creating a "corruption empire."

The video mentions Alisher Usmanov, billionaire and co-owner of Russian internet company Mail.ru. He is accused in the video of bribing the prime minister with a huge amount of property, under the guise of charitable gifts. According to the BBC, Medvedev has dismissed these allegations as "nonsense."

The allegations provoked protests in late March, with thousands of people taking to the streets.

On the same day the trial began, Usmanov published a video response to Navalny on VK, Russia's largest social network — which he partly owns. In the video, Usmanov calls out Navalny, asking if he pays his taxes.

Usmanov's video message proved popular, resulting in over 3 million views and a load of memes.

"Alisher Usmanov vs @navalny. "

Most of the memes poked fun at Usmanov.

Крёстный отец 2017 #Усманов

And in a matter of hours, the memes took over the Russian internet.

@MessiMinutes I'm from Russia and i can say that in last 24 hours Usmanov became biggest meme in our internet. Peop… https://t.co/m6gEfRUDZG

Записываемся на ноготочки 💅💅💅💅💅

"Making an appointment to get nails done."

In mid-May, Usmanov once again posted on VK, this time to announce a challenge — he will award a free iPhone 7 and a T-shirt with his autograph to the person who comes up with the best meme about his video.

People got super into it. They made sticker packs and reaction memes and spread these across multiple social networks.

Many of the memes were criticized for aggressively targeting Navalny, mocking things such as a chemical burn he received in an attack earlier this year.

At the end of May, the court sided with Usmanov, ordering Navalny to remove his videos from YouTube. Navalny refused.

On Monday, Usmanov announced the first set of winners.

He said that he received so many good entries that he had to give out multiple prizes. He also announced that the competition would continue indefinitely, with more chances to win an iPhone.

It's unclear how long the competition will continue. As of Tuesday, the Usmanov Challenge VK page was still sharing entries. BuzzFeed News has reached out to both Usmanov and Navalny for comment.

Here are the first three winners of the meme-off.

Winner #1:

Winner #2:

Winner #3:

Thousands of people in Russia gathered in cities and towns across the country on Monday for a day of nationwide anti-corruption protests organized by Navalny. However, hours ahead of the demonstrations, Navalny was detained from his apartment building

According to the BBC, the government granted permission for demonstrations in 169 locations throughout Russia. There were plans to broadcast the events live on Navalny's YouTube channel.

Navalny had received permission to hold protests in Moscow's Sakharova Avenue, but on Sunday evening, he changed plans and asked people to gather at Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, near the Kremlin, resulting in confusion across the country, and his eventual detention.

Russia holds its next presidential election next March, in which President Vladimir Putin is expected to run for a new six-year term. Navalny has announced his intention to run as a candidate in the election, even though his conviction in an embezzlement case — which he says is Kremlin's attempt to sabotage him — will likely bar him from running.


This story cites BBC article about Medvedev, in which he says claims about him made by Navalny were "nonsense." A previous version of this article misattributes this quote.

Skip to footer