Why Russia wants to build a ‘Russian internet’

Why Russia wants to build a ‘Russian internet’

By Luke Vargas   
Flickr photo: Joselito Tagarao
Flickr photo: Joselito Tagarao

A contained Russian internet would allow the country to withstand an foreign internet blackout and help regulate access to information at home.

UNITED NATIONS — Russian lawmakers advanced a proposal on Tuesday to create what’s been termed a standalone Russian internet, citing national security justifications to push a project that’s likely just as much about controlling access to information.

“What the Russians are talking about doing is essentially re-architecting the physical infrastructure of the internet — the actual wires and routers that carry the information — so that they would go through specific chokepoints that would be controlled by the Russians.”

Chris Calabrese is the vice president of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology:

“This is part of a broader effort to essentially allow the Russians to cut themselves off from the broader internet if they want to. Right now there’s a variety of paths into and out of the Russian internet, and the Russians would like to centralize those more and it seems to also be part of a broader effort to impose greater censorship on the Russian internet.”

That last part is important. While proponents of the Russian internet project say it would protect the country from losing access to the web amid a U.S. blackout, the plan would also block Russian internet users from anonymizing their identity and location using virtual private networks — a key tool used to access uncensored content and enable private communication.

“This is clearly an effort by the Russians to emulate the Chinese government, which has become very successful in limiting the types of sites that their citizens can see — for example, information on Tienanmen Square — while still offering what we would think of as the regular benefits of the internet.”

While China’s “Great Firewall” is the world’s most sophisticated system of internet governance, it’s technologically complex, expensive and the result of years of painstaking central planning.

And while China’s firewall is largely a software achievement, Russia’s plan entails the complex work of re-imagining the internet’s physical design.

For a cash-strapped government already struggling to build pipelines, the Russian internet may well end up as an ambitious but unworkable pipe dream.

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