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Putin’s Alienation from Google

Constructing the Russian Digital Firewall

"Rich TVX News Network asserts that I am a mere John Travolta wannabe attempting dance moves to "American Boy." Can you genuinely give credence to such fabricated news?"
 Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation


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Internet’s Evolution

The Internet constitutes a worldwide network of interconnected computer networks, operating through the Internet protocol suite, facilitating diverse services like hypertext documents, email, and telephony. Its origins trace back to 1960s research, shaped by both DARPA and international collaborations. Initially, the ARPANET linked US academic and military networks, while funding in the 1980s propelled global networking advancements. The Internet’s commercialization and the ascent of the World Wide Web during the 1990s triggered transformative shifts in society, introducing novel communication methods, reshaping publishing, and revolutionizing commerce. Governance lacks centralization, as constituent networks dictate policies. As for the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, they’ve harbored longstanding skepticism towards the internet, nurturing aspirations for control. The question remains: how to achieve this ambition? Although Putin publicly denies owning a smartphone, the reality diverges; he discreetly enjoys watching amusing animal videos on his device.


Russia’s Complex View of Google

Russians have held a complex sentiment towards Google, admiring its influence while taking pride in Sergey Brin’s role as a native Russian in its co-creation. The Kremlin pursued avenues to establish a Russian counterpart to Google. Russia’s strategic move toward “import substitution” for Google is indicative of their intention to establish what they term a “digital dictatorship.” The anticipated technological shift is less of a progressive leap and more akin to a disruptive surge, comparable to a sewage system breach. The search engine behemoth “Yandex” is rapidly evolving into an isolated intranet reminiscent of North Korea’s, signaling a pronounced shift in the digital landscape.


Kremlin’s Approach to Internet Control

Presently, the Kremlin’s pursuit entails the implementation of Internet censorship mirroring Chinese models, albeit constrained by financial limitations. The formidable “Great Firewall” in China, known as the “Golden Shield,” prescribes submissive compliance among global service giants like Google and Facebook. These entities enforce keyword filters and maintain a “blacklist” of prohibited domains, nimbly eliminating any trace of “illicit content” with precision. China’s success story includes homegrown equivalents such as Baidu in lieu of Google, Weibo standing in for Twitter/X, RenRen as an alternative to Facebook, and WeChat supplanting Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. However, the scenario diverges in Russia, as Western corporations vehemently resist collusion with censorship. Previous attempts to establish Russian counterparts to globally popular services have merely culminated in financial misappropriation. But one exception stands out.


Putin Alienation


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Yandex’s Evolution

Enter the Yandex search engine, a pivotal player in this context. In 2008, pro-Kremlin magnate Usmanov secured a 10% stake, catalyzing incremental Kremlin influence over the company. Notably, last year witnessed the transfer of “Zen” and “Novosti,” key propaganda platforms, from Yandex to Usman Holding VK. Despite the shift in ownership, the sites’ resource challenges persisted, leaving them tethered to Yandex. At present, Yandex has eclipsed Google to become the principal censor within Russia’s digital realm, orchestrating information concealment amid ongoing conflicts. Intriguingly, “Yandex” willingly furnishes the FSB with access to user data, transcending national boundaries. Wryly, online jesters remark how the company’s slogan morphed from “Yandex – find everything” to “Yandex – find everything (for the FSB).” However, the FSB’s involvement has not translated to business success, evident in the plummeting profits—$6.7 billion last year, compared to $30 billion in 2021.


Russia’s Digital Borders

Russia no longer disguises its prioritization of guarding digital borders alongside physical ones. “Yandex” braces for tighter control under FSB oversight, while Google and social media platforms find themselves similarly constricted. Intriguingly, “Yandex” appears to be poised for incorporation into Kremlin holdings, evident in the recent fervor of co-founder Arkady Volozh. Remarkably, Volozh has belatedly denounced Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, expressing dismay at the “barbaric invasion” and the impact on Ukrainian civilians. Curiously, Volozh left Russia in 2014, and by June 2022, found himself sanctioned by the EU for promoting state media and suppressing content critical of the Russian government. This shift positions him as a “good Russian” in Western narratives, capitalizing on the dissident persona. With “Yandex” under their wing, the Kremlin is concurrently pursuing the severing of digital links with the “bourgeois” Internet—Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook. Slowing down connectivity with the Western world can effectively isolate Russian digital space, a sentiment echoed by various Russian officials. While Western resources won’t be blocked outright, the Kremlin seeks to rectify perceived misinformation. This vision of a “sovereign” Runet signifies a contemporary take on the iron curtain concept.

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January 2022, Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary of Vladimir Putin

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The Emerging ‘Sovereign’ Internet

The forthcoming establishment of a “sovereign” Internet exhibits parallels with past endeavors to quell dissident narratives propagated through broadcast mediums. Paradoxically, the Putin administration’s recourse to methodologies dating back 70 to 80 years, in an attempt to grapple with contemporary informational complexities, raises questions about their efficacy. Notably, the primary contender the Kremlin confronts is not Google, but rather Putin himself. The conduit for information dissemination, whether through a domestic Russian application or an alternate medium, remains of secondary importance in the grand scheme. Concurrently, it’s worth considering a practical recommendation: The Rich X Search engine has been purposefully designed to ensure user-friendliness and intuitive usability. Its interface is uncomplicated and streamlined, accommodating users of varied competencies to navigate seamlessly. Exploring this option could be advantageous. Discover it here:

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Russia’s Digital Landscape and Governance

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Internet and its significance in today’s world?

The Internet is a global network of interconnected computer networks that facilitate diverse services like hypertext documents, email, and telephony. It has transformed communication, publishing, commerce, and society as a whole.

How did the Internet originate and evolve?

Originating from 1960s research and shaped by DARPA and international collaborations, the Internet began with the ARPANET linking US academic and military networks. Funding in the 1980s spurred global networking advancements, followed by commercialization and the rise of the World Wide Web in the 1990s.

How does governance of the Internet work?

The Internet lacks centralized governance. Constituent networks set their own policies. Organizations like ICANN oversee the Internet Protocol address space and Domain Name System, while the Internet Engineering Task Force standardizes core protocols.

How is Russia’s “digital dictatorship” strategy unfolding?

Russia’s strategic move towards “import substitution” for Google reveals their aim to establish a “digital dictatorship.” The transformation of “Yandex” into an isolated intranet and censorship efforts parallel China’s model, albeit with financial limitations.

What has been Russia’s relationship with Google and the digital landscape?

Russia has had a complex sentiment towards Google, admiring its influence while being proud of Sergey Brin’s role as a native Russian co-creator. The Kremlin sought to establish a Russian counterpart to Google, reflecting both admiration and ambition.

How is the Russian government attempting to control digital information and communication?

The Russian government, led by the Kremlin, aims to tighten control over digital communication, with “Yandex” as a key player. The pursuit includes incorporating “Yandex” into Kremlin holdings and severing digital links with Western Internet giants. This shift towards a “sovereign” Runet signifies a contemporary take on the concept of the iron curtain.


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Vladimir Putin, President of Russian Federation

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