Staunton, October 29 – When telegram channels first appeared, they were a frequent source of anti-Putin news and commentaries. As a result, Moscow blocked them between April 2018 and June 2020, during which it arranged for five pro-Kremlin groups to purchase or otherwise take control of many of them, Ivan Chuprov of the URA news agency says.
As a result, anti-Putin and anti-Kremlin materials on these channels have almost completely disappeared, achieving the regime’s goals without the potentially counter-productive move of continuing to ban them outright, he suggests. In fact, the regime may benefit because the telegram channels retain a large following (ura.news/articles/1036281358).
According to a Kremlin insider Chuprov cites, the five groups include the Presidential Administration, several linked to the Kovalchuks’ business empire such as the Rossiya Bank and InterRAO, and Rosneft. Not only are these channels more loyal than in the past but some, like Nezygar) are even removing their earlier hostile posts.
The regime’s drive to uncover the people behind these channels, most of whom have operated on an anonymous basis, a drive that began in 2017 and intensified in 2018, the insider says, opened the way for the regime to put pressure both financial and police on these individuals, forcing them to sell or at least cede control.
At the same time, and probably because of fear that they too would be exposed, many of the sources within the regime on whom the telegram channels had relied for their information, stopped cooperating with the telegram channels, limiting the dramatic quality of the telegram feeds.
As their stories have become less radically different from other news media, most telegram channels, including the most prominent of them, have lost readership and thus become less of a problem for the regime even when on occasion they do put out something the Kremlin doesn’t like.
Kristina Potupchik, author of ‘Forbidden’ Telegram, concludes that the Kremlin’s campaign has been successful but that it is “premature” to say it has been complete. When political conflicts increase as they are likely to during the 2021 Duma campaigns, the telegram channels are likely to regain their sources within the regime and attract more readers.