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Telegram and Russia Seek Rapprochement Amid Russian Gov't Attack Against Google/Apple

It is only one month since Russia unexpectedly lifted its ban on messaging service Telegram. But the company’s vice president this week appeared alongside Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin — and proposed a crusade against US tech giants Apple and Google. 

Mishustin took part in a panel discussion with IT industry executives near the city of Kazan, 800 kilometers east of Moscow. It was his first public engagement outside the capital since he fell ill with COVID-19 in May. 

Telegram Vice President Ilya Perekopsky’s appearance at the panel was a surprise.

Relations between Russian officials and Telegram fell apart in 2014 when Telegram founder Pavel Durov left Russia because he believed “the country is incompatible with internet business”. The only official contact has been correspondence with the Federal Security Service (FSB) in which Durov refused to give the authorities Telegram’s encryption keys.

The authorities then formally banned Telegram — but failed to enforce the ban efficiently.

Perekopsky didn’t mention any of this, instead complaining about Google and Apple. He said that the 30% commission developers pay Apple and Google on all transactions within apps stifles development. Apparently, this is much more of an issue than IT sector taxes, which Russia is planning to cut.

Perekopsky reminded his audience about European Union antitrust cases against Apple and Google. “There will be no progress in the industry as long as Apple and Google can cheaply swallow companies from eastern Europe with their piles of cash,” he said. 

The same day as Perekopsky’s speech, Durov posted an article on Telegram with the headlines “How Apple is killing start-ups around the globe — and how to stop it”. His solution to the problem is to force Apple to install alternative app stores in Russia, which would not take a 30 percent commission. 

One can only speculate why Durov suddenly decided to go after Apple’s commission. Perhaps he needs to monetize Telegram after his TON project fell apart. More importantly, there are now many questions about whether Telegram and the Russian authorities are working together.

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