The Russian government still has a strong influence on Telegram despite lifting a ban last year. RadioFreeEuropereports Telegram has temporarily blocked all of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Telegram chat bots during voting in the country’s parliamentary election this weekend. Company founder Pavel Durov said Telegram would obey an election law barring campaigning during elections, calling the law “legitimate.”
The move comes despite the nature of the bots and Durov’s past statements. One of the bots, Smart Voting, was only meant to identify candidates that could unseat the dominant United Russia party, not just Navalny’s Russia of the Future party. Durov also decried Apple and Google removing the Smart Voting mobile app from their respective app stores, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that tolerated censorship.
Russia under Vladimir Putin has routinely cracked down on any political dissent, including actions against Navalny himself (such as an attempted assassination linked to Russian agents) and a long-running effort to quash the broader Smart Voting effort. Officials both threatened Apple and Google with fines and have gone so far as to try and throttle internet infrastructure providing access to Smart Voting.
Whatever the motivations, the decision underscores the fine line tech firms tend to walk in Russia. While they might object to the Putin regime’s tight grips on politics and speech, they also can’t afford to antagonize the government if they want to have any kind of presence in the country. Telegram may object to Russia’s policies, but it risks depriving residents of a relatively safe avenue for free expression if it defies Russian laws.