Many tech companies have cracked down on Russia in response to Moscow’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine on February 24, with companies such as TikTok, Netflix, Apple and Microsoft reducing or suspending all operations in the country. Russian state media RT and Sputnik have also been blocked in countries across Europe and the UK to combat the spread of disinformation about the war in Ukraine as Kremlin troops step up bombings in the cities in the country.
Russia retaliated by blocking access to a number of social media companies, including Facebook, in response to the platform limiting its public media.
Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor said on Friday it had also restricted access to Twitter as Western countries continued to tighten sanctions against Russia.
Now it looks like Russia could be preparing to take another drastic step forward by cutting itself off from the global web and switching to its own internet.
A letter shared on Twitter by Polish media group Nexta, which operates Telegram groups with a wide reach in Russia and Belarus, describes an order from Russia’s digital ministry.
The letter, which appears to be from Russian Deputy Digital Minister Andrei Chernenko, demanded that all Russian state-owned websites and online portals transfer their domains to Russian servers by Friday, March 11.
The letter said domains that use international domain extensions should be disabled, with Java code – one of the main web programming languages - from international domains – to be automatically removed from pages.
The Russian Digital Ministry has requested detailed information on what the server structures of Internet Service Providers look like.
He said all Russian state-owned web services must ensure they have switched to domain name system (DNS) servers on Russian soil by Friday, which means that all web services that do not would be cut off.
The letter suggested that Russia may be preparing to completely cut itself off from the global internet.
Moscow already laid the groundwork for its own internet in 2019, when Putin’s government passed legislation to dramatically expand its control over the web, including an unprecedented move to build its own internet infrastructure known as Runet.
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The Sovereign Internet Law gave the Russian government more control over internet content, with the Kremlin saying the move was aimed at protecting Russia’s internet from security threats.
The legislation centralized control of Russian telecommunications systems and forced internet service providers to add site monitoring and blocking equipment to their networks.
Runet has since been tested many times, most recently last summer when Russia disconnected from the global internet to test the local network, which the Kremlin says is designed to step in to serve web pages in cyberattack or failure. , according to Quartz.
The legislation was passed despite criticism from network experts and human rights activists who said it would threaten free speech and heavily censor internet use.
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If launched, Runet would be fully controlled by the Russian government, with users only allowed to access content approved by a central censorship authority.
The move would see Russia overtake countries such as China and Iran in internet censorship, with both countries tightly controlling the internet and censoring foreign websites. China’s “Great Firewall” apparatus heavily censors content that can and cannot be viewed in the country.
Russia’s digital ministry said on Monday that there were “no plans” to disconnect Russian from the global web. He said the letter was aimed at protecting Russian websites from foreign cyberattacks that have increased in response to the war in Ukraine.
A “computer army” of hackers has targeted Russia’s internet as Putin steps up attacks on Ukrainian civilians, with online hacker collective Anonymous declaring a “cyberwar campaign” against the president and his allies.