A couple of months back, Russia decided that enough was enough; they wanted to start putting an iron grip on their Internet. To start their diabolical plan, the Russian government introduced a set of bills that punishes citizens for negative comments towards the government or country, and when I say punish, I mean a few thousand dollars in fines and some jail time.
Of course, this caught some flak from the citizens of Russia. Despite criticism, the bills have stayed in place, and the government is moving on to their next victim: VPN companies. See, the government threatened to shut down VPN companies if they did not comply with their demands, and most VPN companies did not, as the demands provided defeated the purpose of using a VPN.
Now, these VPN companies are under threat of being blocked in Russia, and all within a month! So, what does exactly does this timeline look like, and what is Russia’s ultimate goal?
1. The Bills
In March, the Russian government introduced a bill that severely limited criticism on the Internet, and when I mean severely, I mean completely. Announced as a way to ban supposed “fake news”, the bill set to erase criticism of the government or the people inside it, threatening citizens with jail time or fines.
This was only the first step towards a censored Internet though. In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that enables Russia to legally create their own national network. While this is a long way off as the infrastructure must be created, the implication that Russia can just separate themselves from the rest of the world Internet-wise is a terrifying prospect.
While the government claims this is a security law, protecting the country from foreign restrictions, the national network would only limit the citizens. The bill claims that Russia’s telecoms agency, Roskomnadzor, would be in charge of monitoring the network and if security was ever an issue, cutting off access to foreign networks and traffic.
2. Targeting VPNs
After the censorship bill was signed, the aforementioned Roskomnadzor targeted VPN companies. Roskomnadzor demanded that VPNs comply with Russian law, banning websites that the country has deemed worth banning. Fortunately, most VPNs did not comply with the demands.
Unfortunately, not complying with demands is not taken lightly in Russia. Roskomnadzor explained that if VPNs did not comply with the government’s demands, they would be banned from operating in the country. Not only would this be a blow to the VPN companies themselves, but it would also affect citizens who count on VPNs to access banned content, such as news sites that aren’t propaganda.
3. Action Being Taken
Roskomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov shared with the press that the telecoms agency will soon start banning the VPN companies that did not comply with the demands, so basically all VPNs except Kaspersky.
According to Zharov, these bans will take place within the month, so these VPN companies don’t have long to continue operations there, but there’s not much they can do. Russia has legal upper-hand, after all.
Whether this means that the servers of these VPNs are shut down or not, this raises an alarming precedent for the world. It’s no secret that countries such as China or North Korea are interested in keeping themselves separated from the rest of the world, and Russia leading the charge in a national network is dangerous to progress to be made.
And while Russia claims that this national network would only be used for national emergencies such as cyber-attacks, this could easily be changed with a simple bill being signed by Putin. After all, the censorship bill and sovereign internet bill were too easily passed.