The Russian Mark Zuckerberg
Vegetarian, teetotaler, billionaire
Leningrad native
In the halls of academia
VKontakte
Vkontakte
Controversial elections
Against censorship
Sticking out his tongue
Installing an idea
Information is everything
Navalny
If you can't beat them, buy them
A tropical exile
Free speech freeware
Too lax?
Holy Pavel of St. Petersburg
Another type of battlefield
Playing ball with The Kremlin
Hello, Mr. President
Power
Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(1/21)
The Russian Mark Zuckerberg

Pavel Durov was dubbed the ‘Russian Mark Zuckerberg’ by The Huffington Post in 2012. Though not a well-known personality in The West, the tech mogul is the co-founder of the messaging app Telegram, which has been a constant pain in the neck to Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian governments around the globe.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(2/21)
Vegetarian, teetotaler, billionaire

With a fortune estimated by Forbes at around 15 billion US dollars, what’s the story behind this vegetarian and teetotaler tech mogul?

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(3/21)
Leningrad native

Pavel Durov was born in St. Petersburg (Leningrad during the Soviet Union) in 1984. His father was a Professor of Philology at St. Petersburg State University.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(4/21)
In the halls of academia

Funny enough, Vladimir Putin, another alumnus of St. Petersburg State University, worked there in the early 1990s when Durov’s dad was head of the Classical Philology Department.

Pictured: Putin unveiling a monument to Anatoly Sobchak, former St. Petersburg State University professor.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(5/21)
VKontakte

Pavel Durov graduated from the university in 2006. Around the same time that Mark Zuckerberg was starting out with Facebook, Durov and his brother Nikolai began the popular Russian social media platform Vkontakte.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(6/21)
Vkontakte

Vkontakte, better known as VK, was at first inspired by the then-nascent social media platform Facebook. However, it soon stood out for having as little regulation as possible.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(7/21)
Controversial elections

Durov’s first clash with authorities happened in 2011, during nationwide legislative elections for the Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(8/21)
Against censorship

The New York Times reports that Durov refused the Russian government’s request to take down the pages of opposition politicians from VK.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(9/21)
Sticking out his tongue

Durov responded by posting a picture of a dog in a hoodie with his tongue sticking out on his Twitter account. The police sent a SWAT team to his home in retaliation.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(10/21)
Installing an idea

It was after the incident, The New York Times writes, that Durov realized he had no safe way to communicate with his brother and business partner. That’s when the two of them came up with the idea of Telegram, launched in 2013.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(11/21)
Information is everything

Tensions between VK and the Russian government continued for years. During the start of the annexation of Crimea, Durov refused to hand over data of pro-Ukrainian protesters.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(12/21)
Navalny

The Russian tech mogul also refused to block opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s page from the social media platform.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(13/21)
If you can't beat them, buy them

Eventually, entrepreneurs close to Putin ended up buying 48% of VK and forcing Durov to sell his stock and leave the company.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(14/21)
A tropical exile

Durov took residence in Saint Kitts and Nevis, where he eventually obtained citizenship.

Image: Holger Woizick / Unsplash

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(15/21)
Free speech freeware

It was during this time that he managed to focus fully on Telegram. The platform, with its promise of end-to-end encryption communications, has proven useful for political dissidents in extreme situations such as Iran, China, or Cuba.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(16/21)
Too lax?

However, the lax supervision of Telegram has also come under fire, with accusations in the United States and the European Union of serving as a platform to foster misinformation, hate speech, and illegal content.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(17/21)
Holy Pavel of St. Petersburg

Telegram was banned in Russia by a court ruling from 2018 to 2020. Protesters took the streets with literal icons of Pavel Durov as a saint.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(18/21)
Another type of battlefield

Telegram, which according to TIME magazine has surpassed one billion downloads, has become yet another battlefield in the Russian-Ukrainian War.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(19/21)
Playing ball with The Kremlin

Some, including Navalny, have accused Telegram of now playing ball with the Kremlin with the app banning a “smart voting” channel during the latest regional elections.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(20/21)
Hello, Mr. President

The app is still a favorite of Russian dissents and Ukrainians, with many Kyiv authorities such as President Volodymyr Zelensky keeping an official channel to keep in touch with the people.

Pavel Durov: Russian billionaire, Putin dissident and founder of Telegram
(21/21)
Power

With Moscow and Kyiv fighting the information war on Telegram, Pavel Durov’s power in this time of crisis goes without saying.

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