Russia Ukraine Conflict and What It Means For The Internet

Apr 8, 2022
4 min read

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has shaken the world, and it is affecting many industries. Tech giants like Meta, Google, and Apple have always positioned themselves as politically neutral tech firms; however, they are now pinning their political colours to the mast by banning products in Russia in response to its invasion.

The conflict has undoubtedly changed the internet for Russian users. Twitter and Facebook are blocked in Russia, TikTok is not allowing Russian users to post, and police are reportedly stopping people on the street to inspect what they are viewing on their phones. The conflict indeed changed the internet for Russian users.

A Russian author and journalist, Andrei Soldatov, said that he used to believe that his country was the most digitally connected country in Europe. However, he claims that he can no longer recognize the Russian internet.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, websites with the the.ru domain have only been available intermittently. Microsoft and Oracle, both of which are based in the United States, have stopped selling software. After Visa and Mastercard ceased operations in Russia, many Russians cannot pay for the private networking apps they use to circumvent government censorship of sites such as Facebook.

According to Soldatov, author of the book "The Red Web," Russia is heavily reliant on online services, which are now in disarray due to the conflict.

Russia is three weeks into a test that has never been seen before on the internet. After international sanctions cut off many services abroad and the Russian government tightened its grip on online speech and access within its borders, a major economic and global power is nearly isolated from the digital world.

The outcome of the situation will likely shape the future of the internet. The change will not only be for Russian users; it will change the meaning of the global network.

Is Isolating Russia from The Internet the Solution?

Russia has been isolated in an astonishingly short period of time. Yandex, Russia's largest tech company and operator of both the top Russian search engine and the top ride-hailing service, has announced its plans to relocate around 800 employees to Israel. Two of its directors have resigned, and the company issued a warning stating that it may not be able to pay its debts.

Soldatov described Yandex as the pride of Russia's technology sector. He stated that it is now destroyed and that no one knows what should be done. He also claims that many of the information technology specialists he knows in Russia are leaving or sending their children abroad to escape the growing repression under the current leader.

The Ukrainian government has asked tech giants to ban services in Russia, and a number of companies refusing to do business/sell their products in Russia is growing by the day.

Now, Ukraine's leaders are calling for something even more drastic. They want Russia to be completely disconnected from the internet.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers(ICANN) refused to cut Russia off from the internet. ICANN is responsible for the global governance of the internet.

In response to Ukraine's proposal that Russia should be barred from using the internet, Goran, the CEO of ICANN, stated that the organization would maintain neutrality and support the global internet. A number of groups supported this decision. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was one of them. According to the EFF, war is not the time to mess with the internet. Interfering with basic internet infrastructure protocols that exist today would have dangerous long-term consequences in the future.

These would include:

  • Denying people access to the most powerful tool for sharing information,
  • Creating a dangerous precedent that jeopardizes security and privacy
  • Ukraine has also asked a web infrastructure company, Cloudflare, that provides cyber-attack protection to discontinue its services within Russia.

Splinternet: What Is It and How Does It Function?

Splinternet refers to a situation in which various countries have different versions of the internet. The call to cut off was viewed as a precarious decision that would result in splinternet.

The Great Firewall of China is the most visible example of a country building its own web.

However, the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran polices internet content and limits access to external information in Iran.

Russian government revealed that it had successfully tested the system it experimented with for several years in 2019. Only a few understood the need for it at the time, but with the Ukraine invasion, it all "makes a whole lot more sense," according to Prof Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey.

In the test, Russian ISPs were asked to configure the internet within their borders, just like a massive intranet - a private network of websites that do not communicate with the outside world.

Russia appears to be re-testing those systems; according to a Russian government memo, ISPs were instructed to strengthen their security and connect to Russian domain name system (DNS) servers.

Some interpreted the memo and the test's completion date of March 11. It claimed that Russia intended to cut itself off as soon as possible.

Russia has since denied cutting itself off. It claimed that the test was designed to protect Russian websites from foreign cyber-attacks.

What Would Be the Repercussions of That?

According to Abishur Prakash, the writer of 'The World is Vertical: How Technology is Remaking Globalization', globalization is altering the internet, shifting it from "a global system into which the entire world has been hooked" to something more divided.

New internet architecture is forming as a result of geopolitics, with countries either shut off or establishing their own alternative. As a result, global bridges such as social media platforms are now disintegrating.

According to James Griffiths, the new net power axis will be divided between the West and China/Russia.

Fang Binxing, renowned as the founding father of China's Great Firewall, visited Russia in 2016 to aid them in their efforts to make the Russian firewall more akin to the Chinese one. As internet companies withdraw services and goods, he says that Russia will once again look to Beijing: "Russia's economy is moving to China because it is shut off from most of the world economy. They will, however, have to rely on China much more than in the past."

So far, Chinese tech companies such as Huawei have made no official statements about the ongoing conflict.