Russia’s Nonsensical, Impossible Quest to Create Its Own Domestic Internet

As a general rule, when a country shuts off some or all of its connections to the global internet, it doesn’t need to announce the news. People in that country notice when they can’t access online services, and people outside that country can quickly figure out that something’s going on when they stop receiving traffic from that country or being able to route traffic to servers and service providers in that country. So it was pretty strange when Russia decided to announce last week that it had successfully run tests between June 15 and July 15 to show it could disconnect itself from the internet.

The tests seem to have gone largely unnoticed both in and outside of Russia, indicating that whatever they entailed they did not involve Russia actually disconnecting from the global internet. Indeed, it’s a little difficult to guess at what exactly the tests did involve given the vagueness of a report in the RBC Daily. The Russian newspaper published an article on July 21 reporting that the month of tests had been a success, citing documents from an information security working group that indicated all of the major telecom providers in Russia had participated in the tests. The exercises are supposed to be held annually but were canceled last year due to the pandemic, and whatever went on this year definitely did not include Russia disconnecting from the global internet for any prolonged period of time since that would be impossible to hide. Instead, the tests—and, most of all, the announcement about their success—seem to be intended as some kind of signal that Russia is no longer dependent on the rest of the world for its internet access. But it’s not at all clear what that would even mean since Russia is clearly still dependent on people and companies in other countries for access to the online content and services they create and host—just as we all are.

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