The Russian government is preparing an action plan should they be disconnected by the west according to news reports following the deteriorating relations the country is facing with the west. A report in The Guardian suggests the plans could be ready early next year, with the plans brought forward with the aim of reducing Russia’s dependency on American technology and digital infrastructure, amid fears that its communications are vulnerable to US spying.
“We are preparing an action plan. We are looking at various options how to ensure that internet access was not cut off whatever our partners might do,” Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov said according to ITAR TASS.
According to the ITAR TASS report, Nikiforov said his ministry’s joint exercises with the Russian defence ministry and the Federal Security Service had been necessitated by attempts to switch Russia off various networks, including those serving bank cards. He also cited as a reason the European Parliament’s plans to switch Russia off the SWIFT system.
“In these conditions, we looked at scenarios when our esteemed partners suddenly decide to block internet access for Russia. Russia is a great country and cannot afford that,” Nikiforov said, adding that it was planned to work on a number of technical aspects to prevent switching the Russian segment off the worldwide web. These measures, in his words, would require no considerable funds.
“Regrettable, some components of the infrastructure are not located in Russia and are administered from outside,” he said.
But it could be just talk following the deteriorating relations Russia is facing with the west. Experts told ITAR TASS the full separation of Russian segment of Internet, known as Runet, from the global network is impossible both due to technical and political reasons.
Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s spy agencies, described the plans as big news. In an email from Moscow to The Guardian he said he “didn’t actually believe” Russian officials would disconnect the internet. But he said the moves were a “real step forward in the development of a besieged fortress mentality”
He wrote: “Before, such ideas were mostly to do with so-called government communications (how to make them independent from western technologies). Now they want to expand this crazy idea to the entire internet of the country.”
Soldatov said it would be technically possible for Moscow to shut off the internet because Russia has “surprisingly few” international exchange points. All of them are under the control of national long-distance operations, like Rostelecom, which are close to the authorities, he said.
The most ominous element, he added, was the security council’s apparent proposal to take control over .ru, as well as the domains .su (for Soviet Union) and .рф (Russian Federation in Cyrillic). These domains currently belong to a non-government organisation, the coordination centre of the national domain, rather than to government. Many are currently hosted abroad.
“The thing might be approved very quickly, and this means it shows a way to the next step – to force all domains in the .ru zone to be hosted in Russia,” Soldatov said. Kazakhstan, an authoritarian state intolerant of online criticism, did something similar two years ago, he said, adding that such a move would affect his own website Agentura.ru, which is hosted in Germany.
Alexey Salnikov, the deputy director of the Information Security Institute at the Moscow State University, has rejected this possibility. “ICANN is unlikely to have technical possibilities to fully cut off one or several segments from the global Internet network,” he told ITAR TASS Friday. “The structure of the Internet envisages that if any provider shuts off its networking equipment, the traffic will go through another provider,” Salnikov explained.
The coordinator at Safer Internet Center in Russia, Urvan Parfentyev, also speaking to ITAR TASS there have been no such precedents when countries were cut off the Internet and this could result in further political risks for the United States. “A huge amount of program and technical infrastructure of the Internet is within the US jurisdiction and may be used in the US interests. If any national domain is cut off, this will prove that supporters of the idea that the Internet issues should be managed by the United Nations are right,” he said.
The Vedomosti newspaper reported that Russia’s Security Council, chaired by President Vladimir Putin, is due to discuss on Monday ways in which Russia could separate itself from the Internet in case of an emergency.