Russia may disconnect from Internet in case of emergency

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Russia may be disconnected from the Internet in case of emergency, as the government is considering such a possibility.

If there is a serious military confrontation or large-scale anti-government protests, according to the Russian Vedomosti newspaper.

The idea behind such move is to “strengthen the country’s sovereignty in cyberspace.”

The proposals could also bring the domain .ru under state control.

Unlike in China, “Runet” (Russian internet) has thus far remained a comparatively open place for discussions, despite the fact that most of the local TV channels and newspapers follow Kremlin’s policy.

According to Vedomosti, Russia plans to introduce the new measures early next year. The Kremlin has been wrestling for some time with how to reduce Russia’s dependency on American technology and digital infrastructure, amid fears that its communications are vulnerable to US spying.

It has mooted building a “national internet”, which would in effect be a domestic intranet. These proposals go further, expanding the government’s control over ordinary Russian internet users and their digital habits. Building a “national internet” sounds the same as in case with Iran, which has also been working on the similar plan.

Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s spy agencies, described the plans as big news. In an email from Moscow he said he “didn’t actually believe” Russian officials would disconnect the internet. But he said the moves were a “real step forward in the development of a besieged fortress mentality”.

According to Soldatov, it would be technically possible for Moscow to shut off the internet because Russia has “surprisingly few” international exchange points. All of them are under the control of national long-distance operations, like Rostelecom, which are close to the authorities.

The most ominous element, he added, was the security council’s apparent proposal to take control over .ru, as well as the domains .su (for Soviet Union) and .рф (Russian Federation in Cyrillic). These domains currently belong to a non-government organization, the coordination centre of the national domain, rather than to government. Many are currently hosted abroad.

Soldatov said this might get approved quickly, which would mean a way to the next step of forcing all domains in the .ru zone to be hosted in Russia.

An employee of a large communications provider told Vedomosti that Moscow did not want to unplug the world wide web but to protect Russian cyberspace in case of further western sanctions that may affect the internet.

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