Over the past year, Russian state corporation Rostec has been waging a war on two fronts. In addition to supplying weapons for the Russian military, it’s also fighting to rid Telegram of any criticism of its head, Sergei Chemezov, its former PR chief Vasily Brovko, and his wife Tina Kandelaki. It’s not easy to go undetected by Rostec — the corporation has software that can identify who is behind anonymous channels. Meduza’s Svetlana Reiter and Irina Pankratova of The Bell explain how Rostec has managed to bring Russia’s Telegram community to heel.
You can read the full investigation in Russian here.
- Vasily Brovko, Rostec’s former PR boss and current “Director for Special Assignments,” is leading the charge against anonymous Telegram channels. Officially, Brovko has overseen dozens of projects, from the creation of a unified digital education syllabus in Russia to the introduction of 5G across the country. However, his real job is to lead Rostec’s information policy.• “Now Chemezov orders Brovko to oversee every Telegram channel that writes a single word about Rostec. He’s been doing this from the moment Telegram came to Russia,” said a long-term acquaintance of the head of the state corporation.
- It isn’t easy to establish exactly which Telegram channels “serve” Rostec. However, we can see which channels most frequently write about the company and its senior figures. One of these channels, Nezygar, is a pioneer of anonymous political content with links to unidentified “insiders”.
- Those spreading damaging information about senior management at Rostec are fought in the courts. Employees with experience in the FSB are used to place admins of anonymous channels under arrest. For example, in September 2022, Anatoly Spirin, a 26-year-old blogger from Ulyanovsk was arrested on charges of “extortion.” Spirin ran low-profile, anonymous channels such as Politburo 3.0 where he published scathing accounts of local politicians and businessmen.
- Another high-profile case saw the arrest of journalists who ran an anonymous channel about social life. The channel’s producer was Ksenia Sobchak, a famous Russian journalist and former presidential candidate. The channel reported that Chemezov attended the birthday party of coal magnate Andrei Bokarev. Brovko saw the post and reported it to his boss. “In peacetime, one could ignore this, but now when ‘the motherland is in danger,’ even trivial info like who attended which birthday party becomes undesirable,” said the creator of one popular Russian Telegram channel.
- Four owners of Telegram channels who spoke to our investigators were convinced that Rostec’s interest in Telegram, which intensified after the invasion of Ukraine, is inspired by a desire to “restore order and take all channels under control.”
Why the world should care:
Russia has blocked many popular Western social networks since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. As the media space has shrunk, the number of Telegram users following anonymous channels has surged. Now the Russian government looks set to clean up these sources of information through Rostec.