Ukraine Crisis: The Battle to Keep Russias Internet Free

Author : Dhowcruise
Publish Date : 2022-03-18


Ukraine Crisis: The Battle to Keep Russias Internet Free

Western powers have seized the yachts of Russian oligarchs and booted Russian banks out of the international system in response to the Ukraine invasion, but sanctions that limit access to the Internet are proving highly divisive. Ukraine has called loudly for a widespread boycott and Kyiv has even pushed for Russia to be cut off from the world wide web. International sanctions have seen companies including big tech firms halt operations in Russia, and EU bans on Russian state media outlets have prompted the Kremlin to ban platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

Critics say all of this could well marginalise opponents of the Kremlin, boost the dominance of state media and even lead Russia to try to develop a sealed-off, local version of the Internet. "It's just severing the few remaining ties to the free flow of information and ideas," says Peter Micek of Access Now, an NGO that campaigns for digital rights. A Kremlin crackdown on journalists has already drastically reduced independent sources of information, forcing many media outlets to close or scale back their operations.

Most international social networks are now available only through virtual private networks (VPNs), with figures for VPN downloads suggesting plenty of Russians are following this path. But with web access being squeezed from the inside and the outside, many experts are now calling for the West to take a different approach. 'Hearts and minds' "Sanctions should be focused and precise," some 40 researchers, activists and politicians wrote in an open letter last week. "They should minimise the chance of unintended consequences or collateral damage. Disproportionate or over-broad sanctions risk fundamentally alienating populations." The letter called for military and propaganda outlets to be targeted. Other experts point out that punishing Russia by closing off the Internet is both technically and politically tricky. Ukraine called global regulator ICANN to do just this on February 28, but the request was rejected. "If you try to stop traffic from getting in through the window, it just comes through the cellar instead," explains Ronan David of Efficient IP, a firm specialised in securing computer networks. For Micek, it is simply "counterproductive to the effort to win hearts and minds and spread democratic messages". "Because the only counter-narrative, the only other narrative is coming from the Kremlin," he says. Natalia Krapiva, a lawyer with Access Now, highlights that people exposed to those narratives may well conclude that "Russia is trying to help Ukrainians and is protecting itself". In this context, Western sanctions may seem "completely unfair", she says.

Western powers have seized the yachts of Russian oligarchs and booted Russian banks out of the international system in response to the Ukraine invasion, but sanctions that limit access to the Internet are proving highly divisive. Ukraine has called loudly for a widespread boycott and Kyiv has even pushed for Russia to be cut off from the world wide web. International sanctions have seen companies including big tech firms halt operations in Russia, and EU bans on Russian state media outlets have prompted the Kremlin to ban platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

Critics say all of this could well marginalise opponents of the Kremlin, boost the dominance of state media and even lead Russia to try to develop a sealed-off, local version of the Internet. "It's just severing the few remaining ties to the free flow of information and ideas," says Peter Micek of Access Now, an NGO that campaigns for digital rights. A Kremlin crackdown on journalists has already drastically reduced independent sources of information, forcing many media outlets to close or scale back their operations.

Most international social networks are now available only through virtual private networks (VPNs), with figures for VPN downloads suggesting plenty of Russians are following this path. But with web access being squeezed from the inside and the outside, many experts are now calling for the West to take a different approach. 'Hearts and minds' "Sanctions should be focused and precise," some 40 researchers, activists and politicians wrote in an open letter last week. "They should minimise the chance of unintended consequences or collateral damage. Disproportionate or over-broad sanctions risk fundamentally alienating populations." The letter called for military and propaganda outlets to be targeted. Other experts point out that punishing Russia by closing off the Internet is both technically and politically tricky. Ukraine called global regulator ICANN to do just this on February 28, but the request was rejected. "If you try to stop traffic from getting in through the window, it just comes through the cellar instead," explains Ronan David of Efficient IP, a firm specialised in securing computer networks. For Micek, it is simply "counterproductive to the effort to win hearts and minds and spread democratic messages". "Because the only counter-narrative, the only other narrative is coming from the Kremlin," he says. Natalia Krapiva, a lawyer with Access Now, highlights that people exposed to those narratives may well conclude that "Russia is trying to help Ukrainians and is protecting itself". In this context, Western sanctions may seem "completely unfair", she says.

Western powers have seized the yachts of Russian oligarchs and booted Russian banks out of the international system in response to the Ukraine invasion, but sanctions that limit access to the Internet are proving highly divisive. Ukraine has called loudly for a widespread boycott and Kyiv has even pushed for Russia to be cut off from the world wide web. International sanctions have seen companies including big tech firms halt operations in Russia, and EU bans on Russian state media outlets have prompted the Kremlin to ban platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

Critics say all of this could well marginalise opponents of the Kremlin, boost the dominance of state media and even lead Russia to try to develop a sealed-off, local version of the Internet. "It's just severing the few remaining ties to the free flow of information and ideas," says Peter Micek of Access Now, an NGO that campaigns for digital rights. A Kremlin crackdown on journalists has already drastically reduced independent sources of information, forcing many media outlets to close or scale back their operations.

Most international social networks are now available only through virtual private networks (VPNs), with figures for VPN downloads suggesting plenty of Russians are following this path. But with web access being squeezed from the inside and the outside, many experts are now calling for the West to take a different approach. 'Hearts and minds' "Sanctions should be focused and precise," some 40 researchers, activists and politicians wrote in an open letter last week. "They should minimise the chance of unintended consequences or collateral damage. Disproportionate or over-broad sanctions risk fundamentally alienating populations." The letter called for military and propaganda outlets to be targeted. Other experts point out that punishing Russia by closing off the Internet is both technically and politically tricky. Ukraine called global regulator ICANN to do just this on February 28, but the request was rejected. "If you try to stop traffic from getting in through the window, it just comes through the cellar instead," explains Ronan David of Efficient IP, a firm specialised in securing computer networks. For Micek, it is simply "counterproductive to the effort to win hearts and minds and spread democratic messages". "Because the only counter-narrative, the only other narrative is coming from the Kremlin," he says. Natalia Krapiva, a lawyer with Access Now, highlights that people exposed to those narratives may well conclude that "Russia is trying to help Ukrainians and is protecting itself". In this context, Western sanctions may seem "completely unfair", she says.

Western powers have seized the yachts of Russian oligarchs and booted Russian banks out of the international system in response to the Ukraine invasion, but sanctions that limit access to the Internet are proving highly divisive. Ukraine has called loudly for a widespread boycott and Kyiv has even pushed for Russia to be cut off from the world wide web. International sanctions have seen companies including big tech firms halt operations in Russia, and EU bans on Russian state media outlets have prompted the Kremlin to ban platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

Critics say all of this could well marginalise opponents of the Kremlin, boost the dominance of state media and even lead Russia to try to develop a sealed-off, local version of the Internet. "It's just severing the few remaining ties to the free flow of information and ideas," says Peter Micek of Access Now, an NGO that campaigns for digital rights. A Kremlin crackdown on journalists has already drastically reduced independent sources of information, forcing many media outlets to close or scale back their operations.

Most international social networks are now available only through virtual private networks (VPNs), with figures for VPN downloads suggesting plenty of Russians are following this path. But with web access being squeezed from the inside and the outside, many experts are now calling for the West to take a different approach. 'Hearts and minds' "Sanctions should be focused and precise," some 40 researchers, activists and politicians wrote in an open letter last week. "They should minimise the chance of unintended consequences or collateral damage. Disproportionate or over-broad sanctions risk fundamentally alienating populations." The letter called for military and propaganda outlets to be targeted. Other experts point out that punishing Russia by closing off the Internet is both technically and politically tricky. Ukraine called global regulator ICANN to do just this on February 28, but the request was rejected. "If you try to stop traffic from getting in through the window, it just comes through the cellar instead," explains Ronan David of Efficient IP, a firm specialised in securing computer networks. For Micek, it is simply "counterproductive to the effort to win hearts and minds and spread democratic messages". "Because the only counter-narrative, the only other narrative is coming from the Kremlin," he says. Natalia Krapiva, a lawyer with Access Now, highlights that people exposed to those narratives may well conclude that "Russia is trying to help Ukrainians and is protecting itself". In this context, Western sanctions may seem "completely unfair", she says.

Western powers have seized the yachts of Russian oligarchs and booted Russian banks out of the international system in response to the Ukraine invasion, but sanctions that limit access to the Internet are proving highly divisive. Ukraine has called loudly for a widespread boycott and Kyiv has even pushed for Russia to be cut off from the world wide web. International sanctions have seen companies including big tech firms halt operations in Russia, and EU bans on Russian state media outlets have prompted the Kremlin to ban platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

Critics say all of this could well marginalise opponents of the Kremlin, boost the dominance of state media and even lead Russia to try to develop a sealed-off, local version of the Internet. "It's just severing the few remaining ties to the free flow of information and ideas," says Peter Micek of Access Now, an NGO that campaigns for digital righ



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