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Russian Parliamentarians Push For A Russia-Only Internet

By Vusala Abbasova February 17, 2019

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Senators Andrey Klishas and Lyudmila Bokova as well as parliamentarian Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, all who co-authored the bill, have justified it on the grounds of the “aggressive nature” of the United States’ National Cyber Strategy. / Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Staying connecting via the World Wide Web seems like a guarantee these days, with the proliferation of smart phones, tablets and global usage of digital and social media, but one country is not risking the possibility of getting cut off.

On Tuesday, the Russian State Duma, or parliament, adopted in the first reading a bill regarding an autonomous network called Runet, or “Russia Net”, that would allow Russia to operate in case of a cyberattack or freak accident that digitally isolates the Caspian country from the rest of the world.

According to RIA Novosti the bill, if it becomes law, will permit the Russian government’s agency, known as Roskomnadzor, to monitor the internet and public communication networks to filter Runet from any threats coming from servers outside Russia.

Senators Andrey Klishas and Lyudmila Bokova as well as parliamentarian Andrei Lugovoi, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, all who co-authored the bill, have justified it on the grounds of the “aggressive nature” of the United States’ National Cyber Strategy.

In September of last year, the White House released America’s first comprehensive National Cybersecurity Strategy in 15 years, developed partially due to the furor over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"Russia, Iran, and North Korea conducted reckless cyber attacks that harmed American and international businesses and our allies and partners without paying costs likely to deter future cyber aggression,” reads the strategy. It pledges to, “expand American influence abroad to extend the key tenets of an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet."

“Russia, China, Iran and North Korea all use cyberspace as a means to challenge the United States, its allies and partners,” it continues. “These adversaries use cyber tools to undermine our economy and democracy, steal our intellectual property, and sow discord in our democratic processes."

While the proposed bill has the full backing of the Russian government, the initiative was not without criticism, including that coming from Russia's Audit Chamber. The body fears that the bill's implementation will require additional government spending, despite the bill's co-authors saying the opposite.

"(Russian) budgetary law already includes funding that could be directed toward the realization of the measures proposed in the bill - namely, the creation of a Monitoring and Direction Center for Public Online Networks," Meduza quoted Senator Klishas as saying in an interview with the Govorit Moskva radio station on February 7.

"The Information Security Act, which the government has already approved, includes funding for the present proposal - more than 20 billion rubles ($302.8 million)."

Since the bill’s sponsors have not offered any form of financial backing for their plan, the government supported the draft in terms of its revision for its second reading.

In late 2018, Leonid Levin, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies and Communications, said that Russia may be disconnected from the global internet amid an escalation of international tension. Levin was of the opinion that Washington's pressure on Russia called for "additional measures to protect the country's sovereignty in the online environment."

Although the bill is aimed at protecting Runet and enhancing Russia’s ability to withstand external cyber attacks, some people believe that what is the sovereign internet may create a kind of "iron curtain" on the web, similar to China’s Great Firewall, which censors the internet.