Sovereign RUnet: What Does it Mean?

This case study of RUnet is based on the theoretical framework of cyberspace alignment to national borders introduced by Mueller (2017). He argues that instead of technical fragmentation of the Internet, there are attempts to align the control of cyberspace with national borders. There are three main methods to implement such an alignment: national securitization, territorialization of information flows, and efforts to structure control of critical Internet resources along national lines. This theoretical and methodological frame is useful to study various ongoing process in Russia towards the Internet and explain what is happening with RUnet and how close it is now to become a truly “sovereign network.”

The first part of this study describes national securitization in detail. It consists of four components: (1) emergence of cybersecurity as a national security issue in the Russian doctrinal documents; (2) centralization of threat intelligence in a form of GOSSOPKA program and creation of the National Coordination Center for Computer Incidents; (3) reliance on nationally produced technologies promoted by a state program of import substitution in software development and application; (4) establishment or reassertion of legal authority for network kill switch. The study shows that each of the four components takes place in the Russian policy with varying levels of completeness and success.

The second part of the study deals with territorialization of information flows that includes external content filtering, data localization laws, and geo-blocking. Russia has a comprehensive mix of all components; however, it doesn’t look similar to the Chinese Golden Shield. On the contrary, there is a gradual process of territorializing data and information, elaboration of laws regulating the blocking of websites with unlawful content and filtering of search engine results.

The third part of the study, devoted to the alignment of critical Internet resources to national borders, is the most interesting because of its implications for Internet fragmentation. Mueller explained it as a partition of the global domain name and IP address spaces along national lines to provide nation-states with greater leverage over the governance of the Internet in their territory. The case of RUnet offers an opportunity to track the development of legislation that deals with critical Internet infrastructure and attempts to create a system that allows RUnet to work independently from the Internet in case of emergency or external shutdown.

The case study provides evidence for Mueller’s theory and illustrates the nationalization of Internet governance in Russia. But the most important aspect that threatens the Internet with fragmentation is unpacking now in the form of recent legislation about the new logic of routing policies and attempts to make RUnet independent from procedures that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers uses to maintain the global network. If eventually there will be a technical solution to make RUnet independent, Russia will create a dangerous precedent for Internet fragmentation.

Stadnik, I. (2019) Sovereign RUnet: What Does it Mean?, Internet Governance Project, Georgia Institute of Technology.