Russia Plans Break From Global Web as U.S. Rift Deepens

Russia plans next week to discuss contingency measures to cut the country off from the global Internet in what the Kremlin called a necessary step to shield the nation from the U.S.-controlled worldwide Web.

Russia’s state security council will examine ways to ensure domestic users can be redirected to servers inside the country rather than relying on the U.S.-managed Internet domain-names system, the Moscow-based Coordination Center for .RU domain said by e-mail today.

“We need to defend ourselves from the U.S. and Europe,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said by phone today. “This is not about isolating ourselves, it’s about getting ready for possible cut-offs as countries that regulate the Web may act unpredictably.”

Russia, on the brink of recession after U.S. and European Union sanctions provoked by the worst geopolitical rift since the Cold War over Ukraine, has been tightening control of the Internet this year. Putin, a former KGB colonel who’s centralized power since he became president in 2000, has called the Internet a creation of U.S. spy agencies.

“The Kremlin has already crushed all real opposition and taken over control of nearly all media that tried to remain independent,” Gennady Gudkov, a former opposition lawmaker, said on his blog. “Criticism of the authorities is now an almost exclusive preserve of the Internet.”

Autonomous Access

Russia may urge its telecommunication operators to adjust their equipment to enable access to the Russian Internet autonomously in case of war or mass protests, the daily newspaper Vedomosti reported today.

The press offices of Yandex NV, Mail.ru Group Ltd, OAO Mobile TeleSystems, OAO MegaFon and VimpelCom Ltd declined to comment. Yandex declined 1.3 percent and MegaFon 0.6 percent in Moscow as of 5:10 p.m. in Moscow. VimpelCom lost 0.8 percent in New York.

The entire global system of Internet domain names and IP addresses is managed by the Los Angeles-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

Putting a block on the worldwide Internet doesn’t present technical challenges and is only a matter of political will, said Anton Nosik, a well-known blogger in Russia.

“It’s clear that moving Russia onto a North Korean model of Internet management will have far-reaching consequences for the economy,” he said on his blog. “But the overall trend of the government seeking to restrict the exchange of information and access to the Web is clear.”

Internet Crackdown

Russia last month banned anonymous access to the Internet in public spaces and expanded the regulation of media to the blogosphere, requiring those with at least 3,000 daily readers to register their real names and contact information. In February the authorities had passed a law allowing them to close webpages without a court decision if material is deemed “extremist.”

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who used to criticize Putin and reveal corruption among his inner circle, was the first victim of that law when his blog on LiveJournal.com was shut in March. Recent legislation requires Internet companies to store Russian users’ information on servers in the country, similar to Chinese regulations.

Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt said last year, as the changes were being proposed, that Russia was “on the path” toward China’s model of Internet censorship.

“Russia is isolating itself and securing itself from the West,” said Masha Lipman, an independent Moscow-based political analyst. “Putin throughout almost all of his 15 years of rule has made control over societal forces a priority. It’s only natural that his concern is even higher now with the Western sanctions and a deteriorating economy.”