Putin seeking power to ‘unplug’ Russia from the Internet: Report

President Vladimir Putin will convene Monday a meeting of the country’s Security Council to discuss possible cyber restrictions

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Moscow is considering measures to disconnect Russian cyberspace, the last forum for free expression in the country, in emergency situations such as military hostilities or major protests, a newspaper reported Friday.

With mainstream media firmly under Kremlin control, social media and Internet news sites have over the past months been critical outlets for reporting the possible involvement of Russian troops in the Ukraine conflict and broader discussions about the crisis.

But President Vladimir Putin will convene Monday a meeting of the country’s Security Council to discuss possible cyber restrictions, the respected Vedomosti business daily reported.

Citing several communications providers, Internet firms and non-governmental organisations, the newspaper said several more meetings next week involving senior officials will address “the work of the Russian segment of the Internet in emergency situations.”

Authorities are planning to adopt measures “strengthening the sovereignty of the Russian segment of the World Wide Web” that could include the powers to unplug Russia from the Web in special circumstances such as major rallies or military hostilities, the newspaper said citing sources.

Officials would like to have the measures in place by early next year, the newspaper said.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov and the communications ministry declined immediate comment.

While Vedomosti said the Kremlin was contemplating how to disconnect the country from the global Internet, experts said authorities might face technical challenges as unlike China, Russia is firmly integrated into the global web.

China is one of the countries which most actively blocks politically-sensitive information.

While Putin enjoys popular support, with his approval ratings boosted by Russia’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine in March, the danger of mass unrest is not lost on the Kremlin.

The Russian economy, which is already teetering on the verge of recession, is reeling from ever more stringent Western sanctions over Moscow’s alleged support for separatists in eastern-Ukraine.

Washington and Brussels have introduced several rounds of sanctions that are the toughest punitive measures since the Cold War.

An employee of a large communications provider told Vedomosti that Moscow did not want to unplug the World Wide Web but to protect Russian cyberspace in case of further Western sanctions that may affect the Internet.

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