Ukraine war: Russia does not opt out of the Internet

The Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media's request to use only Russian DNS services briefly sent shock waves through network operator forums. The Belarusian news channel Nexta reported. However, the instruction is limited to public sites and services. Nevertheless, the gap between the Russian and the global network is widening.

No goodbye from the internet

Russia has started preparations for leaving the global Internet, Nexta reported on Monday night. The Belarusian channel, whose critical maker Raman Pratasevich was pulled from a plane and arrested last year at the instigation of dictator Alexander Lukashenko, referred to a call to this effect by the Russian Ministry for Digital Development.
In fact, the translation of the brief instructions, quickly added by experts, states that state operators of services and websites should increase their security precautions. The ministry's to-do list includes changing passwords and avoiding Javascript elements when downloading external sites. If not already done, local DNS, hosting and cloud services will also be used. At the same time, the ministry wants to be informed about outages and see numbers of which services are offered and where they are hosted.
Last but not least, the Russian government is likely to react to DDoS and other attacks, such as the password theft from the Ministry of Defence, with the instructions. At the same time, the strategy towards a national is not new. The Russian legislature has been working on this since 2018. Among other things, there are plans to bend the DNS root zone. According to Russian observers, however, incompetence and corruption have thwarted the implementation so far. The current order of the Ministry only underlines this and does not go that far. Because it only refers to public domains, notes the French DNS expert Stéphane Bortzmeyer.
The USA is also trying – for many years quite unsuccessfully – with its "Einstein" project to push through uniform security and sovereignty standards in government services, adds Bill Woodcock, head of the Packet Clearing House.

Further isolation of Russia

Despite the "all clear" message, however, one thing is certain: Putin's invasion of Ukraine is dividing the web. So the Eurasia Network Operators Group (ENOG) is in the process of dissolving. The forum, founded in 2011 by the IP address management company RIPE, was intended to encourage cooperation between network administrators from the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe. The volunteer program manager Töma Gavrichenkov now proposed the dissolution. In the "light of recent events" there is no longer an "ENOG community," the Russian wrote. In addition, he does not believe that as a citizen of Russia he still enjoys the trust of a majority of ENOG participants.
His Ukrainian deputy, Alex Semenyaka, resigned at the same time. Semenyaka, who was also RIPE's liaison officer in Moscow, was expelled by the Russian government last summer as an alleged spy. The first voices are now admonishing the establishment of an operator's group without Russian participation, a Central European NOG.
The Council of European National TLD Registrars (CENTR) also wants to forego Russian participation. He locked out the operator of .ru a week ago.

Neutrality still possible?

The "Keep Russia off the Internet" policy has been the subject of controversy, not least since the Ukrainian call to kick Russia out of the root zone. Most recently, the termination of the contract by the Internet backbone operator Cogent further fueled the discussion. The expulsion of Russian Cogent customers is hardly visible when looking at the Internet traffic on the important Moscow Internet Exchange. If other tier-1 providers or even internet exchanges followed, things would look different (see graphic peering).

Moscow Exchange

So far, most infrastructure providers have referred to their neutrality obligation when keeping communication channels open. Last week, however, DeCix in Frankfurt was already confronted with harsh criticism. The newspaper "Die Welt" criticized the support of Russia by the large German Internet Exchange Provider. Network policy researcher Niels ten Oever was even harsher on the RIPE. The Dutchman wrote on a discussion list that with his "neutrality" the address management practically also supports the Russian military.
ICANN, which refused to be kicked out of the DNS root, announced yesterday Monday that it would provide $1 million in support for maintaining connectivity in Ukraine, in an effort to take a stand. This could be used to buy satellite terminals, for example.

Losers in the propaganda war

In the heated debate, Stéphane Bortzmeyer warns to be careful when calling for general bans, as this affects the communication of many people. He pointed out that Russia lost the propaganda war precisely because of cross-border communication.
"Nobody buys the Russian government's alleged excuses for the invasion. Ukrainians are not fooled by Russian claims that they are part of Russia. The rest of the world rejects Putin's narrative. Even Russia is protesting," Bortzmeyer told the newspaper hot online.

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