It’s something of a minor miracle that the internet has expanded to cover the globe without being chopped up into incompatible blocks that can’t talk to each other. Russia is taking a significant step toward doing just that, though. Russia’s Ministry of Communications confirms the country has tested a new national alternative to the internet, known colloquially as Runet.
Russia has been vague on exactly how Runet operates, but experts believe it would be similar to the systems already in place in countries like China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Authorities claim the test went as expected and regular internet users didn’t notice any disruption in services. Of course, the goal of Runet is to disrupt in profound ways if the need arises.
Runet is essentially an effort to restrict the points at which Russia’s internal network infrastructure connects to the outside world. Should the government ever deem it necessary, it could block those connections and allow Runet to handle online communications within the country like a giant intranet. In that way, Russia could seal internet users off from the outside world to lock down access to information and stifle communication. This setup would also prevent VPNs from functioning as they wouldn’t be able to connect to the necessary servers outside of Runet.
It’s unclear how close Russia has come to implementing Runet, but it might not be long before we see the government restrict internet access in times of unrest. It has already attempted to block access to specific sites and services like the messaging app Telegram. Runet will require the cooperation of numerous ISPs and telecom companies in Russia, making it a complex operation. China and some other countries with heavy Internet restrictions were able to build their infrastructure with isolation in mind.
This comes just weeks after Putin’s government approved a law that will require all electronic devices in the country to have a suite of Russian-made apps preinstalled. It frames the law as a way to promote Russian business and make phones easier to use. However, it may be more about getting people to use services over which the government has control. These apps would also be more likely to work in the event Runet takes over for the open internet.
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