But the government lacked the technical means to block access to the app, and it stayed mostly available for Russian users. By 2020, the government lifted its ban, saying that Telegram had agreed to several conditions, including stepped-up efforts to block terrorism and extremist content.
Rather than stifling Telegram, the Kremlin tries to control the narrative there, not just through its own channels but by paying for posts, said Mr. Shepelin, the media analyst. The number of subscribers to official or hard-line channels dwarfs the audience for opponents.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
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A boost to NATO. Finland and Sweden are considering applying for membership in the alliance. Dmitri A. Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, said Moscow would be forced to “seriously strengthen” its defenses in the Baltics if the two countries were to join.
Pavel Chikov, the head of the Agora Human Rights Group, who has represented Telegram in Russia as a lawyer, said the company may have maintained its Russian operations so far because the authorities find it useful to spread the idea that they have certain ties with Telegram and its founder, Pavel V. Durov, “whether it’s true or not.”
Mr. Chikov said he does not believe that Telegram provides any sensitive information about communications to the Russian government or others because if it did, he said, “people all over the world would stop using it.”
But security researchers have raised alarms about how exposed Telegram users may be. Messages, videos, voice notes and photos exchanged through the app do not have end-to-end encryption by default and are stored on the company’s servers. That makes them vulnerable to hacking, government demands or a snooping rogue employee, said Matthew D. Green, an expert on privacy technologies and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.
“A service like that is an incredibly juicy target for intelligence agencies, both Russian agencies and others,” said Mr. Green.