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Friday, September 20 • 10:06am - 10:40am
Internet Governance in Russia - Sovereign Basics for Independent Runet

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Nationalization of Internet governance, or, in other words, the assertion of sovereignty over “national segments” of the Internet is a real trend nowadays and it happens predominantly in authoritarian countries. To academically study the assertion of sovereignty and the extent of such an assertion, I use the theoretical framework of cyberspace alignment to national borders introduced by Mueller (2017). He argues that instead of technical fragmentation of the Internet, there are attempts to align the control of cyberspace with national borders while preserving the benefits of using the global network. He suggested three main methods to implement such an alignment: national securitization, territorialization of information flows, and efforts to structure control of critical Internet resources along national lines. This theoretical and methodological frame is useful to study Internet governance in Russia and explain what is happening with RUnet and how close it is now to become a truly “sovereign network.”

The first part of this study describes national securitization in detail: (1) emergence of cybersecurity as a national security issue in the Russian doctrinal documents; (2) centralization of threat intelligence in a form of GOSSOPKA program and creation of the National Coordination Center for Computer Incidents; (3) reliance on nationally produced technologies; (4) establishment or reassertion of legal authority for network kill switch. Notably, the fourth component stands out because the Russian discourse differs from Mueller’s understanding of domestic Internet shutdowns. The Russian focus was (and still is) on an external kill switch for the RUnet by hostile states because it is conceived as a threat to Internet security and resilience in Russia. The study shows that each of the four components takes place in the Russian policy with varying levels of completeness and success.

The second part deals with external content filtering, data localization laws, and geo-blocking. Russia has a comprehensive mix of all components; however, it doesn’t look similar to the Chinese Golden Shield. On the contrary, there is a gradual process of territorializing data and information, elaboration of laws regulating the blocking of websites with unlawful content and filtering of search engine results, while pressing foreign companies to comply with national law.

The third part devoted to the alignment of critical Internet resources to national borders is the most interesting because of its implications for Internet fragmentation. The case of RUnet offers an opportunity to track the development of legislation that deals with critical Internet infrastructure and attempts to create a system that allows RUnet to work independently from the Internet in case of emergency or external shutdown.

In summary, the case study provides the evidence for the Mueller’s theory, but the most important aspect that threatens the Internet with fragmentation is unpacking now in a form of recent legislation about the new logic of routing policies and attempts to make RUnet independent from procedures that ICANN use to maintain the global network. If eventually there will be a technical solution to make it, Russia will create a dangerous precedent for Internet fragmentation. 


Marcela Gomez

University of Pittsburgh


Ilona Stadnik

Saint-Petersburg State University

Friday September 20, 2019 10:06am - 10:40am PDT
Y115 4300 Nebraska Ave, Washington, DC