A two-year-old effort to allow the Russian military to rely solely on internal networks during wartime has apparently blossomed into support for a digitally isolated government and civil society as well, a top advisor to Vladimir Putin said this week.
In 2016, the government began to operate the Closed Data Transfer Segment, an internal intranet for military and other officials. Klimenko seems to have suggested that the Segment could handle traffic for the rest of the country as well.
The Russian government has long worked to reduce dependence on foreign information technology. (Putin has called the Internet a CIA project.) In 2010, Russia launched an effort to create a Linux-based operating system to wean the government from Microsoft products. Five years later, the Russian government mandated that digital data on its citizens be stored on Russian soil, a move perhaps also intended to help keep tabs on the population. Last year, Russia announced that it would build an alternative Domain Name System for use by itself, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa.
Klimenko emphasized that moving to an entirely internal Internet would impose unspecified inconveniences for Russia, and would be “painful.”
That’s understatement, says Samuel Bendett, an associate research analyst at CNA and a fellow in Russia studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. Bendett says that digital isolation is technically possible but not necessarily achievable. For one thing, it would have severe consequences for the Russian economy.
“The key phrase here is that it would be a ‘painful process’ were that to happen in the first place. He is saying that the Russian military and government have their own closed Internet systems,” said Bendett. “But while the military may function with its own JWICS [Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System], isolating the Russian society from the global Internet may be a very difficult, if not impossible, process, considering how much Russian economic and socio-cultural nodes depend on global Internet traffic.”
The announcement follows a series of bellicose statements and moves from the Russian government in recent months. In October of 2017, during the large Zapad military exercise, the Russian government conducted a massive civil defense drill to prepare the population for total war.
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