What’s off with Telegram’s response to the piece about their potential ties to the Kremlin

Yaroslav Azhnyuk
5 min readMay 2, 2023

Today Telegram has officially responded to my piece about the risks of Telegram’s ties to the Kremlin, which I published about a month ago.

You can read their statement here: https://telegra.ph/Azhnyuk-Claims

I didn’t ask for a response, nor did they try to contact me, so this came as a surprise when a friend sent me the link.

In brief — despite the cordial tone, I find their response and statements incomplete if not manipulative.

I don’t currently have the time to provide a complete list of everything I believe is wrong with their response, and will leave that to the journalistic community.

However, here are just a few brief highlights of what is off:

  • Telegram’s general approach is to point out small inaccuracies in the statements published in a Wired article on Feb 2023 or in my piece for Ukrayinska Pravda and Kyiv Independent, dated March 2023, while trying to imply that these inaccuracies make the whole point invalid. That is not the case, as can be clearly seen by anyone willing to spend the time analyzing the statements.
  • Misleading Wired article, corrected” — their response to the Wired article is a great illustration of my previous point. You can read it here: https://telegra.ph/Wired-Errors . While they found some inaccuracies, the main points remain totally valid. And this includes everything from Moxie’s professional criticism of Telegram for their weak cybersecurity, to the fact that VTB organized their bond sale, to a plain point that “Telegram has the capacity to share nearly any confidential information a government requests. Users just have to trust that it won’t.” Read the Wired piece here: https://www.wired.com/story/the-kremlin-has-entered-the-chat/
  • No connection to Russia” — hahaha. Really? There are so many connections, I don’t know where to start. How about Telegram’s VP Ilya Perekopsky hanging out with the governor of Vologod Oblast, Mr. Oleg Kuvshinnikov some 2.5 years ago in September 2020? Oleg is under the sanctions from Ukraine, US, UK, and Canada since 2022, for supporting russian bloody and genocidal invasion in Ukraine. How about all the Russian heritage, connections, friends, investors in TON, and VTB bank (russian governmental bank, under sanctions) organizing the most recent $1.75B bond offering by Telegram?
The “no-connection-with-russia” Telegram’s VP Ilya Perekopsky with the governor of Vologod Oblast, Mr. Oleg Kuvshinnikov, September 2020. Ilya is still a VP of Telegram as of May 2023.
  • Telegram has no equipment, employees, or companies in Russia.” — that’s a bold one and should come under much scrutiny.
    Pavel Durov spoke about his Ukrainian roots” and the reference to Pavel being exiled for protecting Ukrainians — while makes for a good PR story — is just that, a story and no proof that Telegram is safe, or is that it is not knowingly, or unknowingly collaborating with the Kremlin.
    You can call all of this many things, and argue whether this points to Telegram’s ties to the current russian government, but calling this “No connection to Russia” is.. let’s call it a “misstatement”.
  • Telegram denies any deals with the russian government and wants us, the public, to take it at face value. However, given the inaccuracies in their previous statements, this is hard for me to do.
  • They claim to have a monetization strategy, and be on the path to sustainability, however, their financials and corporate structure are anything but transparent. As a private company — they do have that right, but as a provider of a critical public service — it’s a matter of time before a proper journalist investigation is held to highlight how Abramovich, Usmanov, Yakobishvili have invested in TON (as was reported by Forbes.ru) and why out of all the banks, VTB was chosen to conduct a bond offering in 2021. How does that connect with “Pavel Durov being an exile for protecting Ukraine”?
  • By the way, I don’t think Pavel Durov or anyone with Telegram has ever condemned the russian invasion of Ukraine. They’ve only called this a “tragic conflict” and said that “We all wish for an immediate end to the conflict”. That is definitely not the Ukrainian part of Pavel Durov speaking. Ukrainian founders and companies have called this war by what it is — a genocidal war of conquest, and recognized that it is the fascist russian state that has started it. Ukrainian funders have ceased any business with russia and cut all possible ties after the invasion.
  • Telegram have lost their #5 in the response, however in #6 they claim that Telegram messages are encrypted. Well, I did indeed use the word “unencrypted”, while meaning “not end to end encrypted by default”. That was a conscious stylistic simplification so that I don’t have to explain to the general audience what all those details mean. However, there are plenty of explanations why Telegram is not secure, like the one by Moxie Marlinspike, a global cybersecurity authority, which Telegram chose not to respond to in their piece https://twitter.com/moxie/status/1497001286444617746 .
  • While Telegram argues they have open-source mobile apps, they fail to mention that no one has ever seen the source of their server-side software. And that’s the most interesting piece. For comparison, Signal’s server-side code is partially open source (the close source part being an anti-spam piece, for obvious reasons).
  • #8 is a manipulation; #9 is a denial — would love to hear what Novaya Gazeta has to say about this,
  • #10 states “Telegram also stores very limited or no data on users — in most cases, it can’t even access any user data without specific entry points”. Well, this is interesting. I wonder whether engineers who work or have worked at Telegram can confirm or deny this. They seem to say that the publications by Spiegel and TechCrunch referencing “sources” and Deli High Court are untrue. If it is one word against another, I tend to believe Spiegel and TechCrunch, and maybe someone can find the details and hard proof in these cases.

In any case, I welcome Telegram’s response to the concerns being discussed by Ukrainians and the global community. I am sure there will be more good journalistic work in this direction. In the end, Telegram will either show in an open and transparent manner that there’s nothing for the public to be wary about, or it will become evident that Telegram is not as secure as it claims to be, and the public will act accordingly.

I do not have any personal interest in seeing Telegram’s decline. In fact — it is sort of a useful service, and it would be difficult for people to switch. However, if it is used by the Kremlin and endangers the lives of Ukrainians and the sovereignty of our country — this has to be known to the public. Currently — I am not convinced at all that Telegram is safe, I am suspicious, I believe the risks are high, and the best course of action for Ukrainian military personnel and government officials is not to have Telegram installed on their phones or computers and move to safer platforms like Signal or WhatsApp for messaging and Twitter, and the Web for news.

I encourage the journalistic community to keep validating and questioning the information we know about Telegram and its potential ties to the Kremlin. As one of the most used apps in Ukraine, during the war that is going on—understanding this topic is critically important.

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Yaroslav Azhnyuk

Entrepreneur, geek, and lindy-hop dancer. Accelerating victory for Ukraine and the Free World.