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Isolate Russia from the Internet, a punishment that could go too far

Western countries have confiscated the yachts of Russian oligarchs and expelled Russian banks from the international system in response to the invasion of Ukraine, but sanctions that limit Internet access are divisive. And the experts do not entirely agree with this idea.

kyiv has called for Russia to be disengaged from the World Wide Web.

But experts, politicians and human rights advocates warn that such sweeping sanctions risk backfiring by isolating those in Russia who oppose the war in Ukraine and alienating even more the dream of a universal Internet.

“It seems counterproductive in terms of efforts to spread democratic messages and win hearts and minds“, emphasizes Peter Micek, legal director of Access Now, an NGO that fights for digital rights. In itself, Moscow’s censorship has already drastically reduced independent news sources.

Numerous local and international media outlets have ceased their activity. Access to the main social networks is difficult, unless a virtual private network (VPN) is used. Tech giants from Google to Sony have responded to calls from the Ukrainian government to punish Russia by suspending the sale of certain products or services in that country.

But as access is increasingly restricted from inside and outside Russia, many experts are calling for a change in approach. “Sanctions must be selective and precise“, directed at the military or propaganda agencies, some 40 researchers, digital freedom advocates and European elected officials, in particular, wrote in an open letter published last week.

They must minimize the risk of collateral damagebecause “disproportionate or overly broad sanctions risk alienating populations,” they noted.

The signatories also called for the creation of a “multilateral mechanism” that would be responsible for assessing and implementing sanctions, for example to block access to Russian military websites. Others warn that building a digital wall around Russia would be technically and politically difficult.

Ukraine’s request: isolate Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP Photo

Ukraine asked Icann for just that on February 28, but the global regulator responsible for assigning addresses on the Internet rejected the request, arguing the need to remain neutral.

“Network infrastructures are very intertwined. If we want to prevent traffic from entering through the window, it will enter through the basement,” explains Ronan David, CEO of the Efficient IP start-up, a specialist in computer network security.

After the invasion of Ukraine, the European Union banned the official Russian media RT and Sputnik from being broadcast from the European audiovisual spectrum, on social networks and even in Google search results. Russia responded by blocking the BBC and Facebook, as well as Instagram, an app many Russian influencers and entrepreneurs rely on for their business.

Natalia Krapiva, a lawyer for Access Now, stresses that based on official Russian information, “people may believe that Russia is trying to help the Ukrainians and is only targeting military targets.”

In that context, Russian citizens are likely to find these sanctions “completely unfair” by the West, he says. This isolation could be reinforced over time, as alternatives are established, more easily controlled by the Russian government, or even at its initiative.

“The Russians are quite capable of building a national network,” but it would be very different from the Internet, estimates Pierre Bonis, director general of Afnic, the association that manages the “.fr” extension.

Servers, servers and data centers, cloud computing.  Photo Pexels

Servers, servers and data centers, cloud computing. Photo Pexels

“We must not break the universality of the Internet, even if the Russians do unacceptable things,” he insists. China already has a largely separate Internet, and other countries aspire to this model. “Iran has spent the last decade building a National Information Network (NIN) as a viable alternative to the global Internet,” says Micek.

According to him, the sanctions favor “the development of this even more censored national Internet”. country.

“Upwork, one of the platforms we depend on to help civil society and support democratic actors in Russia, has immediately stopped providing its services.” For the more determined Russians, there remains the use of VPNs, some of which have been banned in recent years in Russia: Demand jumped 2,692% on March 14 compared to the week before the Ukraine invasion, according to

Source: AFP

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