Almost half of Telegram users in Russia do need to use VPNs to access the service, according to Telegram Analytics; but the number of daily users of the service in Russia grew from 3.7mn in April 2018 to 4.4mn in February 2019, according to Mediascope data.
Thus, despite the ban, Telegram continues to rank third in Russia after WhatsApp and Viber.
Telegram was banned in Russia on April 13, 2018, following its refusal to let the Russian secret service FSB to decipher user messengers as required by law.
Adopted in 2016, a new Russian legislation (dubbed ‘Yarovaya law’ or ‘Big Brother law’) requires messenger apps and other “organizers of information distribution” to add additional coding to transmitted electronic messages so that the Federal Security Service (FSB) can decipher them.
The authorities’ failed attempts to block access to the service in Russia caused substantial damages to a number of online services, which saw their IP address blocked even though they had no relation to Telegram.
According to Pavel Chikov of human rights watchdog Agora, Telegram’s resistance was helped by international cloud service providers such as Amazon and Digital Ocean, which refused to block the service as requested by the Russian authorities. Meanwhile, the Telegram app could still be downloaded from Apple’s app store.
In early 2019, Pavel Durov shut down the legal entity Telegram Messenger LLP, which was on the official Russian ban list, in an attempt to lift the ban. However, Roskomnadzor Head Alexander Zharov stated that such formal changes would “not change anything.”