Internet freedom expert says Russia lacks the means to pull off an isolated Web like China's
On February 12, 2019, the State Duma has passed the first reading of legislation that will allow the federal authorities to take control over the connection points linking Russia to the global Internet. Ostensibly as a defensive measure, lawmakers want to build the technical infrastructure necessary to sustain the Russian segment of the Internet in isolation from the rest of the world.
In an interview with Meduza, Internet freedom activist and “Roskomsvoboda” technical director Stanislav Shakirov argues that Russia lacks the domestic investment infrastructure to develop its own tech startups the way China does. Not only are Russian Internet users accustomed to having their pick of Western online services, but Russia's domestic market isn’t big enough to sustain competition in isolation, and its unfriendly business climate remains a major hindrance, Shakirov says.
Will Russian officials actually be able to pull off an “autonomous Internet”?
Shakirov says the authors of Russia’s Internet regulations frequently draft such illiterate legislation that it’s largely unenforceable (like the law used to “ban” Telegram), and the authorities have had mixed success with policies already on the books, like SORM (the System for Operative Investigative Activities), the Yarovaya laws, and more. The “autonomous Internet” legislation could become more practical, however, in the amendments process.
Is Russia responding to a genuine foreign threat?
No. Shakirov says there’s no precedent for one country cutting off another country’s Internet access in an act of international political pressure. There are, of course, innumerable cyber-attacks, but the solution here is the creation of secure communication networks for critical infrastructure, not a walled-off Internet that inflicts major harm on the digital economy. Russian officials in Ingushetia, meanwhile, have already demonstrated their willingness to shut down Internet access during mass demonstrations.
Would VPNs still work?
If Moscow went further than the Chinese government and physically “cut the cables” to the global Internet, not even VPNs would connect Russian Internet users to the outside world. If service providers were merely limited by certain types of traffic control, however, VPNs could still work.