Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia is “legally and technologically” prepared to disconnect from the global internet if the need arises.
According to the major news agency Interfax, Medvedev pointed out that, although this is now within Russia’s abilities, he considered it a “double-edged weapon” and sees no reason for it to be implemented.
The Russian Government had previously announced that it completed a test of a nation-wide internal internet known as RuNet. This was happening during the 2019 winter holidays in a bid to showcase that Russia’s online infrastructure would face no issues even if it were to be disconnected from the rest of the world.
Multiple human rights advocates from Russia and from around the world have criticized the initiative as a means to control and censor access to digital information within its borders. Although Russia claimed that the initiative was due to cybersecurity concerns, this – combined with a noticeable isolationist infrastructure – suggests differently.
“There is not that much data available, but presenting the drills that happened in late December as a real-world exercise about disconnecting Russia from the global internet is probably an exaggeration. There were no user reports confirming that,” said Leonid Evdokimov, a Russian security researcher at Censored Planet, a censorship measurement platform.
“But the internet censorship and overall situation in Russia clearly has a chilling effect. So it seems there is no urgent need for the government to make an isolated internet right now. The current partial censorship and set of laws produce enough of a noticeable effect.”
Medvedev, who is currently deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, expressed concerns that Russia could be disconnected from the global internet or the SWIFT international payment system “if something extraordinary happens”, especially since the U.S. retains “key rights of control” to the internet.
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“We even had to create our own system for transmitting information so that we can exchange electronic messages if this suddenly happens,” Medvedev added.
Medvedev’s statement comes after massive protests over the past two weekends, sparked by the arrest of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption activist who was poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020.
His video, “Putin’s palace. History of the world’s largest bribe”, prompted Russia’s communications regulator to fine several social media companies for not taking down videos that were promoting the country-wide protests.
“Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, and YouTube will be fined for non-compliance with requirements to prevent the dissemination of calls to minors to participate in unauthorized rallies,” Roskomnadzor or the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media wrote a statement published on the executive body’s website.