Staunton, April 17 – Now that the Duma has passed on third reading a bill that will allow Moscow to try to cut off the Russian Internet or Runet from the world wide web, most discussion has focused either on the impossibility of its being able to do so or on the ways in which such self-imposed isolation will harm Russia itself.
But one provision of the bill, almost certain to be approved by the Federation Council and signed into law by Vladimir Putin, may prove to be one of the most consequential. Under the measure’s terms, Agentura.ru’s Andrey Soldatov points out, Moscow can shut off Internet service region by region (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/179590).
It almost certainly can do that more easily and more effectively than it can for the country as a whole, and it can likely escape the kind of withering criticism it would face if it shut down access in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Indeed, if used against restive regions and republics, many Russians might even support such actions.
But if Moscow uses this measure to provide legal cover for that kind of repressive action, it may find that it will backfire. On the one hand, it will make it even more obvious than now that the powers that be view Russians in the regions and non-Russians in the republics as second class citizens, something that may add to regional and national protests.
And on the other, as the situation in Ingushetia is demonstrating, if Moscow attacks electronic connections in places where protests are happening, even more people may come into the streets to find out what is happening and add themselves to the movement, exactly the reverse of what Moscow hopes for.