DTwo months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it seems that the Internet has split in two. Although several platforms and networks have banned accounts close to Russian power, Russia has restricted access to most non-Russian social networks. The Russians retreated to VK (equivalent to Facebook) and Telegram. The phenomenon of Balkanization of the Internet, also called splinternet, seems to have taken place; Russian Internet today seems out of reach. However, Russia is not yet completely separated from the world.
“From a technical point of view, it would not be too difficult for Russia to simply cut the Internet beyond its borders: there are only about 12 connection points between its Internet network and the rest of the world,” he said. Kieron O’Hara. , professor-researcher at the British University of Southampton and co-author of the book Four Internet: data, geopolitics and cyberspace governance. However, he believes that if Russia were cut off from the world, the system would quickly collapse: “The Internet today is so interconnected that the operation of any place is based on data from all over the world. In 2019, Russia announced that it had managed to completely isolate its Internet from the rest of the world for several hours without any operational problems. “Obviously I don’t know the details, but I’ve never met anyone who believes in this story,” the researcher notes.
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This does not mean, however, that Russia will never be able to secede from the world. In fact, when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin quickly realized that any dependence on Europe or the United States could severely harm it. The Internet is one of the areas in which the country tries to be as independent as possible. The development of all areas related to technology, from social media to semiconductors, is strongly encouraged. Government sites and payment methods are made as national as possible. Information dissemination networks are occupied by the public authorities in order to influence them. “If we add to this the fact that Russians in general only speak Russian, and that nationalism is very strong in the country, it would not be very difficult to convince many Russians that a smaller, lower-quality Internet would be an acceptable price. pay to restore national pride, ”says Kieron O’Hara.
This idea of a country being cut off from the rest of the Internet is not new. “In China, the separation from the rest of the world is much more advanced. Anything that enters or leaves China passes through the Great Firewall of China, a kind of giant virtual shield, ”recalls Winston Maxwell, Director of Law and Digital Studies at Telecom Paris. “The Chinese knew from the beginning that the Internet would be a problem for them. Russia did not see it coming and is now trying to catch up, but at the moment they are still far from Chinese technicality, “said Kieron O’Hara.
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Somehow, European and American reactions to the Ukrainian war helped Russia become more independent. Probably encouraged by the wave of mass departures from Russian companies, Internet service provider Cogent Communications, one of the world’s leading companies in the field, announced in early March that it would stop serving its Russian customers. He was followed, among others, by Lumen, another important player in the market.
LjoThe Internet Society, an American association for the freest possible Internet, issued several press releases questioning these decisions: “In the short term, individuals will lose access to a vital lifeline for security and safety. “In the long run, actions that undermine the apolitical nature of the Internet would divide the Internet along geopolitical lines and irreversibly alter the Internet as we know it today.”
Kieron O’Hara, however, wants to emphasize the positive: at the moment, we are not there yet. “The diversity of Internet agents (public sector, private sector, non-profit and non-profit organizations, governments, NGOs) has ensured that the Internet is not divided. What we have gone through and what we are still going through is a very big ordeal, but so far the Internet has endured. »
According to him, the biggest challenge will be if one day we find ourselves in a similar situation, facing China: “On the island of Taiwan is the most valuable semiconductor industry in the world. Then the situation would be very different from today if we had to put pressure on China. I don’t know if the internet would survive. »