Saturday, January 26, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Hopes to Isolate ‘Sovereign Internet’ from World Wide Web

Paul Goble

Baku, January 26 – A Russian Duma deputy with close ties to the Kremlin has prepared draft legislation to allow Moscow to limit the access of Russians to the Internet, according to a news agency citing local blogs. But while the measure -- if adopted -- could create problems for Russian surfers, experts doubt it would achieve its goals.
On Thursday, a Russian blogger, citing yet another blog, reported that United Russia Duma deputy Konstantin Rykov has drafted legislation designed to isolate Russian young people who regularly go online from sites that carry messages the Kremlin does not approve (
The measure’s most significant provision, according to the bloggers who say they have seen the drafts, calls for the organization of a national domain .rf in place of the existing .ru and .su ones, a step that would force many sites to re-register and thus give the Russian government the power to deny that and force them off the web.
In addition, the measure reportedly calls for shifting all Russian cites from Latin script to Cyrillic and for establishing a Russian-dominated alternative to the current international organization set up by the United States that has been responsible for registering domains up to now.
And finally, the legislation orders the blocking of all sites the authorities deem to be pornographic as well as online dating services, which the legislation says currently are “exerting a harmful influence on young people and having a negative impact on the demographic situation.”
Russian officials have either organized or welcomed attacks on sites in the Caucasus, Europe and elsewhere in the past, and there have long been rumors in Moscow that the Kremlin very much wants to have greater control over what is at present the last bastion of free media in the Russian Federation.
But these reports – which may be designed to test the waters -- are something new. In addition, however, there is another reason to think the Kremlin is serious about moving in this direction. While Kremlin loyalists like Sergei Markov deny such plans exist, others in Moscow say president-designate Dmitry Medvedev are behind them.
Stanislav Belkovskiy, a prominent Russian commentator, told the New Region news agency that he had no doubt that Medvedev was the moving spirit behind this step. On the one hand, he said, it is consistent with his interests in keeping the country on message and his technocratic approach to political issues.
And on the other, Belkovskiy noted, the author of the legislation is in addition to everything else is an aide to Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov, who has taken the lead in defining “sovereign democracy.” Thus it should surprise no one that the future leader would want to extend this to the Internet (
If the legislation is introduced, Nikolai Levichev, the head of the Just Russia faction in the Duma told “New Russia,” he and many others would oppose it. But given the overwhelming majority that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party has there, the measure would probably be passed if the government backs it.
But even if the draft does become law, many doubt that it would have achieve everything its authors hope for, given the nature of Internet technology. Markov, for one, pointed out that even China has had relatively little success in its effort to selectively control access to the World Wide Web.
And Boris Kagarlitskiy, the head of the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, said that he had his doubts the Russian government would go ahead. While such a law would create a certain amount of chaos given its calls for re-registration, it would not prevent Russians from access to them.
If Moscow refused to re-register one or another site, he points out, its editors and owners could simply move it “to Ukraine, Finland or the Bahamas and [continue to] work for the Russian audience.” Once Russian officials and parliamentarians recognize this, Kagarlitskiy said, most of them are likely to back away from such a step.

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