As long as Russia’s war with Ukraine continues, Moscow is trying to tighten control over the domestic Internet; Also discontinue apps made by American tech giants; Even when other firms took their services out of the country. However, the move to imitate the Internet in China is still a long way off; Russian citizens can still log in, bypassing control.
For the past few years, Google, Meta, and Twitter have been working in an uncomfortable environment in Russia. They were under pressure from the authorities to remove content that the Kremlin deemed unfavorable. The Washington Post reported this month that Russian agents threatened to jail Google executives if the company did not delete the app, which angered President Vladimir Putin. Companies were in danger of losing their services.
Although the Russian Internet was gradually becoming more controlled, citizens could still access the global services that provided them with more information and state-backed media and pro-Kremlin sources. However, the war with Ukraine has once again put American tech giants under pressure as Putin’s desire to control information grows.
Instagram is now blocked in Russia; After Meta allowed users in some countries to call for violence against the Russian president and the military in the context of the invasion of Ukraine. Facebook was blocked in Russia last week; It imposed restrictions on government-sponsored newscasts. Access to Twitter is severely restricted.
These incidents underscore how Big Tech companies should balance their quest for a large market like Russia, with growing demands for censorship. Western tech companies decided to support Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict. This puts them on the verge of a clash with the Russian government.
Russia’s tightening online power revived talk of Splinter, The idea that two or more different Internet sites will work in increasingly separate online worlds. Nowhere is this separation as clear as in China, where the services of Twitter, Google, Meta, and foreign news organizations are blocked. Instead of WhatsApp, Chinese citizens use WeChat. Baidu replaced Google search. Weibo is even replacing Twitter. The country’s massive censorship system, Firewall, has evolved over two decades and is constantly improving.
While Russia’s growing Internet control is likely to accelerate this push towards different Internet networks, the country is far from creating technical capabilities beyond China’s constraints. It took years for the Chinese government to get to today. Their strategy has evolved and adapted over this time. According to experts, Russia can not do it overnight. The Chinese system allows Internet censorship and Internet controllers to monitor traffic, disabling geographical areas, including allowing more freedom up to the block level. This is something that Russia cannot repeat at this point.
It is difficult for Chinese citizens to control Beijing’s fast Internet. The government regularly restricts VPN apps, which are the best option to avoid an extensive firewall. However, the Russians could avoid the Kremlin’s attempts to censor the Internet. VPNs have seen an increase in downloads from Russia.
Meanwhile, Twitter has released a version of its website on Tor. A service that encrypts Internet traffic to help hide users’ identities and prevent surveillance. Putin misjudged his citizens’ level of technical knowledge and their willingness to seek a solution.
Chinese tech companies may benefit from this since American and European firms have stopped doing business in Russia. Many of them, from Alibaba to Realme, already have businesses there. Chinese companies have so far remained silent on the issue of the Russia-Ukraine war. It is worth noting that Beijing refused to call the Russian war on Ukraine an “invasion.” It also did not join the US, EU, Japan, and other sanctions against Moscow.