- Popular enrcrypted messaging app Telegram is banned in Russia.
- In an effort to block citizens’ access to Telegram, Russia blocks Google services as well.
- This forces Google’s hand to either stand against Russia or convince Telegram to submit to the ban.
With Russia officially declaring a ban of popular encrypted messaging app Telegram, the Russian regulator Roskomnadzor (RKN) is struggling to enforce that ban. Now, it looks like Google is caught in the crossfire, as certain Google services like Search, Gmail, and some push notifications for Android apps, are not working for Russian citizens.
“We are aware of reports that some users in Russia are unable to access some Google products, and are investigating those reports,” Google said in an email statement to TechCrunch. This is the first time that Google has acknowledged something related to the Telegram situation.
It could very well be that RKN blocking access to Google is a ploy to get Google to step in and reprimand Telegram. Pavel Durov, the founder and CEO of Telegram, has refused to comply with the Russian ban; at press time for this article, Telegram is still available in Russia. If Google’s services are blocked, it may force Google to take action on behalf of Russia to get Telegram to acquiesce to the ban.
If that is the case (and that’s a big “if”), it means Russia doesn’t know how to block Telegram on its own and needs Google to police its network.
However, the more likely situation is that Russia is flying blind and blocking everything it comes across that could be related to Telegram. According to Ilya Andreev, the COO and co-founder of Vee Security, RKN is “embarrassingly bad at blocking Telegram, so most people keep using it without any intermediaries.” Vee Security is currently providing a proxy for Telegram for Russians to use to bypass the ban.
Russia is trying desperately to block access to Telegram, but it simply doesn't know how.
To bypass IP address blocking enforced by Russia, Telegram “hops” from one IP address to another once an IP address it’s using is blocked. This results in RKN blocking multiple IP addresses all at once at a rapid pace, as it struggles to keep up with Telegram. It could be that Russia inadvertently blocked a set of Google IP addresses and now has to decide what to do next.
The Russian government has broad powers over its citizens and the internet, so it can block any amount of IP addresses it likes. However, with eyes on Russia and its status when it comes to human rights – not to mention the World Cup right around the corner – from a PR standpoint, blocking access to Google services is not doing the country any favors. After all, if people from all over the world show up for the World Cup and can’t check their Gmail, that will look bad for Russia, not Google (or Telegram, for that matter).
Google now has to choose: side with Russia and get its services back on, or stand firm with Telegram.
So far, Telegram’s cloud partners and other affiliated businesses have stood firm against the ban, continuing to support the app in Russia. But if Google steps in and starts calling the shots, that could change very quickly.
Google’s hard stance on China keeps virtually all Google business out of the country for similar reasons as Telegram’s fight against Russia. With that in mind, it seems unlikely that the Big G would side with the Russian government over the Telegram ban. However, anything could happen from here on out.