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Russia ramps up internet censorship amid Ukraine war


During the meeting between Vladimir Putin, Russian President of Russia and Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4, 2022 they pose for a picture.

Alexei Druzhinin | AFP | Getty Images

Russia is continuing its war on Ukraine. Moscow seeks to increase control of the nation’s internet. This includes cutting down apps created by U.S. technology companies, while other businesses have pulled services out of Ukraine.

But a move to emulate the internet as it exists in China — perhaps the most restricted online environment anywhere — is a long way off, and Russian citizens are still manage to bypass controls in the system, analysts told CNBC.

Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms. Meta, Google TwitterThey have worked in a hostile environment in Russia.

They were forced to take down content from sites that are considered unfavorable by the Kremlin. The Washington PostReports this month claimed that Russian agents threatened a Google executive with imprisonment if they didn’t remove an app which had angered the President Vladimir Putin. Companies have been living under the threat that their services would be shut down.

While Russia’s internet has become more restricted, the citizens can still access these global services. They are gateways to other information than those backed by state media and pro-Kremlin sources.

The war against Ukraine, however, has put American technology companies in the spotlight once again. Putin’s increasing desire to control information makes it more difficult.

Instagram is Now blocked in RussiaAfter its parent company Meta, users could use the Meta app in certain countries. call for violence against Russia’s president and militaryThe context of Ukraine’s invasion. Facebook was blocked in Russia last weekIt placed restrictions on news media that were government-backed. Twitter access is severely restricted.

These incidents show how Big Tech companies must balance the pursuit of large markets like Russia and increasing demands for censorship.

They made the strategic decision to help Ukraine at the start of conflict for Western tech companies. “This puts them on an collision course with the Russian Government,” Abishur Prakash (co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future), told CNBC. Meta and other companies are “prioritizing politics over profit,” he said.

CNBC reached Russia via email and received no comment from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Roskomnadzor (internet watchdog) and media.

“Russia can’t do it overnight”

Russia’s internet grip is tightening has been resurrected talk about a “splinternet” — the idea that two or more divergent internets will operate in increasingly separate online worlds.

China is the clearest example of this separation, with services blocked from Google, Meta, Twitter, and other news agencies.

Chinese citizens now use WhatsApp rather than WhatsApp WeChatThe most popular messaging application with more than 1 billion users is e.g. Baidu replaces Google search. Weibo has replaced Twitter.

Over the past two decades, the country’s vast censorship system known as The Great Firewall has evolved and continues to be refined.

It is difficult to access virtual private networks for Chinese citizens, which can hide users’ identities and locations in order to jump the firewall.

Russia’s increased internet restrictions will probably accelerate this trend toward divergent webs. But, Russia is not close to achieving anything even half the technological capability of China.

“It took many years for Chinese authorities get to where they are now. Their strategy evolved over the years and has been adapted. Russia cannot achieve this in a matter of hours,” Charlie Smith, co-founder of (an organization that tracks Chinese censorship), said.

Paul Triolo (senior vice president for China, technology policy lead at Albright Stonebridge Group), stated that China’s internet system permits “internet monitors and controllers much greater leeway to control traffic, turn down geographical areas and target offending users or traffic.”

Russia could not replicate that, he said.

Russian firewall

Chinese citizens have difficulty getting around Beijing’s strict internet restrictions. China’s government is responsible for regularly clamped down on VPN appsThey are the most effective way to evade the Great Firewall.

However, Russians were able to defy the Kremlin’s efforts to restrict the internet. VPNs are able to see a surge in downloads from Russia.

Twitter also launched its own version of the website. TorThe service encrypts Internet traffic in order to hide the identities of users and protect them from surveillance.

Triolo from Albright Stonebridge Group stated, “Putin seems to have misjudged the level of technical knowledge of his citizens, as well their willingness and readiness to seek workarounds for continuing to access non-official data, and the numerous new tools, services and workarounds that have sprung up in the past five years, which enable people who want to retain access to outside information channels to achieve this,”.

Chinese companies will take advantage

European companies and the United States are alike suspend business in RussiaChinese technology firms could take this opportunity. They already do business in China, including many of the companies listed above, such as Realme and Alibaba.

Chinese companies are the only ones that have so far been able to remained silent on the issue of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Beijing has refused to call Russia’s war on Ukraine an “invasion”he has not joined any sanctions placed on Moscow by the United States, Japan, European Union or other countries.

Chinese companies face many challenges.

Triolo explained that there has not been any direction from China about how businesses should handle sanctions and export control. Therefore, companies with significant international presence are unlikely to follow the guidance of central authorities.

They will take great care in deciphering Beijing’s wants here, as well as weighing the best way to respond to Russia customers of old and new.

Prakash says that the Chinese will likely respond to Beijing’s tone.

Chinese technology firms will have many opportunities if Beijing does not continue to support Moscow tacitly. He said that the biggest potential is for them to plug the hole created by Western companies after they left Russia. This is a huge opportunity for these companies to increase their revenue and footprint in Russia.