February 14, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10487

Kommersant Columnist Gurevich: Russia Has Altered The Internet From A Source Of Information To An E-Commerce Venue

February 14, 2023
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10487

Russian authorities have not yet reached the level of control over the internet exercised by China and the Russian population is "world champions" in using VPN applications to evade government censorship. However, the censorship drive that began even prior to the Ukraine invasion is gaining momentum and is now churning out criminal indictments.

Kommersant's Mikhail Gurevich is convinced that the government is trying to discourage two of the major uses of the web: to seek and provide information and to voice an opinion. For the Russian government, internet is to be used for buying, selling, posting pictures online, corresponding, and occasionally playing games.

The column, titled "Runet Has Broken A Number Of Records For Bans," follows below:[1]


Last year, 610,600 webpages were blocked or deleted following the requests from the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media [hereafter, Roskomnadzor]. The Runet [i.e., the Russian-language community on the Internet] has broken all kinds of records in terms of bans, criminal cases, and other restrictions. Today, only YouTube and Telegram remain "censorship-free" islands, but they are also increasingly subjected to threats and  calls to "restore order." However, even restricting access to YouTube will not cause any protests these days. Russians are the absolute world champions at downloading VPN applications. And if something happens to the popular video hosting site, this will become yet another reason to use systems to bypass blocking.

The most paradoxical thing is that, judging by the statistics published by human rights activists in the "Two Runets" report, the main government offensive against the national segment of the Internet did not happen in 2022, but the year before. That year, according to the Network Freedom Project, there was a two-fold increase in the number of proposals for government regulation and blocking orders.

In the past year, the trends continued evolving further. Laws were supplemented with articles that prohibit discrediting actions by the authorities and by the army. The number of criminal cases against Internet users increased accordingly. The only radical change was the increase in cyberattacks and, consequently, leaks of personal data.

The problems with cybersecurity are easy to explain. In modern warfare, hacking into databases and servers is as mundane as artillery fire on a battlefield. Same with the reaction of our lawmakers. Some deputies have already begun saying that it is about time to start punishing someone and somehow for it. A new term has even been coined: "digital negligence." But no one is likely to be surprised by yet another article in the Criminal or Administrative Code.

It was once proclaimed that the Internet was needed for free access to information and to allow one to express one's position. Today, both of these acts are becoming ever more dangerous, and, at times, can even lead to being indicted.

A reasonable question arises: how should a law-abiding citizen act in this not-quite-information space? The state provides its own answer. The year 2022 was the year of online commerce. It has grown by 43% and [its turnover] exceeded 5 trillion rubles. According to analysts, the sharp rise in online sales is attributed to the withdrawal of offline retailers from the market and the flourishing of parallel imports (which are, to a large extent, sold on virtual marketplaces).

Buying, selling, posting photos, exchanging emails, and occasionally playing games seem to be the most decent online activities from the point of view of the authorities. This would be a good time to comment on the metamorphosis that occurred to Runet. But the news came that this week is the "good word week against profanity and slang" in Russia. So, I better keep my mouth shut.


[1], February 6, 2023.

Share this Report: