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Activists from the Vesna movement with masks inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, at a “For Free Internet” action in St. Petersburg. July 16, 2017

From ‘protecting children’ to ‘discrediting the army’ A brief history of 10 years of Russian Internet censorship

Source: Meduza
Activists from the Vesna movement with masks inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, at a “For Free Internet” action in St. Petersburg. July 16, 2017
Activists from the Vesna movement with masks inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, at a “For Free Internet” action in St. Petersburg. July 16, 2017
Sergey Konkov / TASS

In November 2012, Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor, published a “blacklist” of banned websites. In the decade since, Roskomnadzor and other Russian authorities have gained increasing control over the Russian Internet, limiting foreign companies’ operations in Russia as well as Russia publications’ reach and content. The war in Ukraine has only accelerated these processes. Here are the major moments in the Russian state’s ongoing takeover of the Internet within the country.

November 1, 2012

A list of banned sites comes online. It was created by amendments to a law, which had been hastily passed in the same year, for protecting children from harmful information. The amendments permitted Russia’s federal censor, Roskomnadzor (RKN), to block certain sites without a court’s permission. According to the department, the sites contained child pornography and propaganda about suicide or narcotic drugs. Owners of the sites had three days to remove the banned information, after which the entire resource would be included on a “blacklist.” In the first days of the list’s existence sites such as the satirical Internet encyclopedia Lurkmore wound up on it.

March 2014

On March 12, one of the oldest and largest publications on the RuNet,, got a warning from Roskomnadzor for including a link in one of its texts to an interview with the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist organization Pravy Sektor (Right Sector). Editorial deleted the link. One the same day, news went public that the site’s editor-in-chief, Galina Timochenko, had been fired. A large portion of the publication’s journalists subsequently quit. Aleksey Goreslavsky took over editing Within four years he was working in the Russian presidential administration.

On March 13, RKN blocked Aleksey Navalny’s LiveJournal, as well as the sites,, and These were the first Russian mass media sites to be blocked – the alleged reason was for publishing calls to protests. “The protesting electorate worries them, but there have been protests before. I’m sure that the main reason for the blocking was the war in Ukraine,”’s editor-in-chief, Vladimir Korsunsky, said at the time. Russia annexed Crimea within five days.

July 2014

A law was passed that required all services to store Russian citizens’ personal data on exclusively servers within Russia. After the law took effect (in September 2015), Internet resources found to be in violation could be blocked. That’s how the professional social networking site LinkedIn became unavailable in Russia in November 2016. In 2019, fines for refusing to “localize” Russian’s data rose to millions of rubles – since then, the largest western companies, including Google and Apple, have been subject to them.

July 2016

The so-called Yarovaya Package was approved. The laws took effect in 2018, and required communications operators and coordinators of the dissemination of information to store six months of their users’ calling and texting records, as well as their Internet traffic – and to share it at law enforcement’s request (if the information is encrypted, providers are required to give the FSB decryption keys). The Yarova Package passed despite Internet companies’ protests, and it has become extremely expensive and barely functional.

April 2018

RKN began blocking Telegram because the messaging service refused to hand over encryption keys for user correspondence to the FSB. In attempting to limit access to the service, Roskomnadzor blocked several million IP addresses, which it claimed that Telegram was using to continue operating within the Russian Federation. That method caused errors for a number of other sites and services, but it didn’t have much influence on Russians’ access to Telegram. In 2020, RKN unblocked Telegram. Recently, the agency asserted that blocking the service again is “out of the question.”

May 2019

Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law on the isolation of the RuNet. It allowed authorities to control all overseas data transfer points, as well as to route web traffic. To put it simply, the Kremlin could now, if it deems it necessary, turn off the “outside Internet” – that is, all sites and services housed on servers located outside of Russia. That has not yet happened, but with the help of equipment installed to help enforce the law on RuNet isolation, Roskomnadzor has, for example, successfully slowed down Twitter.

April 2021

Meduza made the list of media “foreign agents.” The various Radio Liberty projects had already been on it for a few years. Meduza’s inclusion on the list kicked off a new campaign against Russian independent media. The Ministry of Justice soon afterward listed VTimes (which has since closed), The Insider, TV Rain, Vazhniye Istoriya (Important Stories), and Mediazona as “foreign agents.” Individual journalists (and many other individuals) were also named “foreign agents.”

In summer of the same year, the investigative outlet Proekt became the first media outlet to receive the even more toxic status of “undesirable organization.” Proekt closed, and part of its team became the new media outlet Agenstvo. In 2022, Project reestablished its original brand, and Important Stories and The Insider appeared on the “undesirable” media list. 

July 2021

Roskomnadzor blocked Aleksey Navalny’s site, as well as more than 40 resources associated with his Anti-Corruption Foundation, based on a court decision that declared structures connected with opposition politicians “extremist organizations.”

In September, before State Duma elections, RKN, with threats of sanctions and fines, succeeded in removing the Navalny app with its Smart Voting function from the Apple and Google stores. YouTube and Google Docs closed access to Smart Voting candidate lists, and Telegram blocked a Smart Voting chat bot. Navalny accused Google and Apple of cowardice, and Telegram’s creator Pavel Durov of “betraying his principles.”

Late February and early March 2022

On February 24, Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine, calling it a “special operation.” Roskomnadzor required that media use that exact phrasing and banned the term “war.” On the basis of that ban, Russia authorities took a little more than a week to block the biggest independent media outlets (including Meduza). On March 4, penalties for “discrediting” the Russian army and publishing “fakes” about it took effect. This was wartime censorship. According to Roskomsvoboda, an organization that works against Internet censorship, the new penalties affected more than 5,300 sites and links just in the first five months of the war.

Late March 2022

On March 21, a Russian court declared Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram – an extremist organization. The reason was “posting information containing calls to violence against Russian citizens.” Later there were calls within Russia to unblock Instagram. That didn’t happen, and in fact PMC Wagner founder Evgeny Prigozhin, who has become extremely influential since the beginning of the war, asked the Prosecutor General to block YouTube as well.

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Story by Meduza

Translation by Emily Laskin

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