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Telegram a national security issue – Ukraine’s top spy

Banning the app would not be censorship, GUR chief Budanov has said

Ukraine can use Telegram for influence operations but the messaging application still represents a threat, the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence service (GUR), Kirill Budanov, said on Wednesday.

In comments sent to the media by Kiev’s Center for Strategic Communications, Budanov admitted the wide reach of the encrypted instant-messaging platform, calling it both an opportunity and a problem.

“From the viewpoint of national security, Telegram is definitely a problem,” Budanov said. “Anyone can create a channel, start writing whatever he wants, and – when someone tries to do something about it – hides behind freedom of the press.”

“I am absolutely against the suppression of freedom of speech. But this is too much,” Budanov added. “This is not freedom of the media, it is something else.”

Telegram was created as an instant-messaging platform by Russian entrepreneurs Pavel and Nikolay Durov in 2013. What sets it apart from similar applications, such as WhatsApp and Viber, is the ability to create public broadcast channels and discussion groups. It is currently the number one messaging app in Ukraine.

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“The most interesting thing is that everyone reads Telegram,” Budanov said. While this may have a “destructive effect” inside Ukraine, it also allows Kiev to spread its message in the Russian-controlled territories, he added.

His comments come two days after several Ukrainian lawmakers proposed a bill to “regulate” Telegram. The proposal defines messaging platforms as a separate legal category and creates reporting requirements for “providers of information” using them. If passed, it would require any messaging platforms operating in Ukraine to have a registered office in the country – unless they are headquartered in the EU – and disclose their ownership structure and funding to the government.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has consolidated all media outlets under the state’s umbrella, citing martial law imposed due to the conflict with Russia. Officials in Kiev have repeatedly lamented the fact that Telegram has enabled citizens to bypass government censorship. 

Last month, a parliamentary committee agreed that the platform should be banned in Ukraine. This prompted criticism from a National Security and Defense Council official in charge of “countering disinformation,” who argued that Ukraine was using the platform to “strangle the pro-Russian segments of the media field” and that banning it would be “impossible.”

March 28, 2024 at 01:01AM

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