November 7, 2019

The Digital Counter-Revolution: Why the Kremlin Pursues a Sovereign Internet?

Russia’s attempts to control and regulate the flow of online information and communication within its territory reached a new stage on 1 November 2019 after its so-called “internet sovereignty” law came into force. Designed to increase state control over what Russia’s citizens can access and do online, the law has already sparked numerous protests across Russia.

Although it remains to be seen how effective the law is likely to be, it is already clear that it fits perfectly well with the regime’s survival considerations and, more importantly, with the broader geopolitical strategy of the Kremlin towards the West.

This paper analyses the reasons behind the failure of Moscow’s successive strategies to enforce the central state’s absolute sovereignty online. These reasons may include:

  • The amount of data online, the web’s decentralised routing technology and the prospective satellite-based internet which together undermine Moscow’s strategies of control through physical infrastructures.
  • The relative reluctance of international platforms to execute the authorities’ requests for censorship which limits the global success of Moscow’s strategy of control through ownership.
  • The determination and inventiveness of the domestic digital resistance which prevents the total success of Moscow’s legal and social coercion strategies.

Secondly, this paper proposes an original insight concerning Russia’s cyberstrategy. It argues that the Kremlin’s aspiration for neo-Westphalian “internet sovereignty” ultimately depends on a radical change of the internet governance format. Moscow’s call to replace the current multi-stakeholder model with a multilateral system should be understood as an absolute prerequisite for its control over domestic communications and information. From that perspective, this paper identifies Russia-based campaigns of cyber disruption as Moscow’s attempt to actively demonstrate the merit of “internet sovereignty”, by sowing international distrust in the principle of a free and international internet, as defended by the current multi-stakeholder model of governance.

Download: The Digital Counter-Revolution: Why the Kremlin Pursues a Sovereign Internet? (PDF)

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