Russia is accelerating the deployment of its “Splinternet”

Over the past few days, Vladimir Putin’s government has blocked access to the social networks Facebook and Twitter on its territory, and also demanded that local ISPs and government sites be hosted locally, and the Internet infrastructure for accessing it be under Russian control. .

These measures, prompted by the war in Ukraine, are part of a quest for digital sovereignty that began a few years ago in Russia. The purpose of this search is twofold: to achieve technological independence from other countries (for reasons of competitiveness, but also security) and to control the content available on the Internet.

This transformation of the Russian Internet is what some call the “splinternet” (a portmanteau word that combines the verb split, meaning “fragment” and the Internet), where the rules and technologies underlying the Internet differ by country and region. This concept is not unique to Russia. China, with its own web giants and excellent firewall, already has a parallel internet.

“Armed conflict in Europe further moves the world away from the idea that the Internet is an open and universal kingdom,” lamented Scott Malcomson, author of the book, in an opinion piece. Splinternet: how geopolitics and commerce are fragmenting the World Wide Web (Splinternet: How geopolitics and commerce are fragmenting the web), published 2016.

A complete shutdown of the Russian Internet is unlikely

Predicting Vladimir Putin’s actions is always tricky, and some observers wonder if Russia might be on the brink of cutting off its Internet from the rest of the world entirely, limited to accessing Russian sites and services.

For Alena Epifanova, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of an analysis of Russia’s drive for digital sovereignty, such a decline is unlikely. “The Russian economy has already been severely affected by the war, and the blocking of the Internet will be another big blow for it,” she said in an interview with the publication. news.

Unlikely, but not impossible, however, tempers a researcher specializing in Internet politics in Russia. “Unfortunately, we are witnessing a major crisis, so we cannot rule out such a possibility. Vladimir Putin wants to do everything in his power to control information,” she recalls.

For residents of Russia, such a reduction would further limit the ability to obtain information from international or independent sources.

Unattainable technological autonomy

Russia’s other goal in its pursuit of digital autonomy, namely the creation of an autonomous Internet infrastructure, will be more difficult to achieve.

“Western control over certain technologies, especially microprocessors, limits Russia’s options,” says Alena Epifanova. Russia could count on some Chinese technology as compensation, “but it’s hard to find suppliers who are completely independent of the United States,” she adds. Half of the devices used by China’s largest microprocessor maker, such as SMIC, will be made by American companies.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo warned Chinese companies this week that those who defy U.S. sanctions by supplying cutting-edge technology to Russians could be denied access to U.S. equipment.

Even if full independence is not achievable, Vladimir Putin’s motivation for as much technological isolation as possible will no doubt be renewed by technological sanctions imposed on his country, including by Europe and the US.

Moreover, the end of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will probably not lead to the return of the web to Russia as it was before the war, Alena Epifanova believes. “Vladimir Putin is now fighting not only against the West,” she explains. He also fights against his people. Web control is essential for this other war. I believe that Internet policy will not change until a new regime is in place. »

Leave a Comment