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A great variety of sanctions have been discussed and implemented with more to follow.

One sanction I have never heard being discussed, and that is cutting off Russia from the internet.

Now I am aware that there is no a single organization that controls the internet. But when it comes the management of the top-level domains there are not many options available, and some of this is definitely controlled from the US.

I appears to me that cutting of Russia from the internet would make the lives of Putin and his government harder and it would also help create an atmosphere of discontent inside Russia towards Putin. In addition it would also have an economic impact on Russia's economy.

Can it be done and would it support Putin or hurt him?

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  • 27
    Why would you want to cut Russia from the internet? It is currently one of the very few ways in which Russian citizens can access independent news... Feb 27 at 9:55
  • 7
    Aside from the technical questions about cutting off an entire country from the internet from the outside, your point about "no single organisation controls the internet" raises an even more important question of, "Who could make this decision in the first place?" Feb 27 at 10:01
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    The technical question "can it be done" is non-political. The political question "should it be done, if possible" is opinion. Either way, this is not suitable and I vote to close.
    – James K
    Feb 27 at 15:28
  • @GeoffAtkins: Well, IANA could try, but I'm doubtful it would work.
    – Kevin
    Feb 28 at 2:12

3 Answers 3

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It appears to be somewhat possible... at least from the inside. This capability been on Putin's to-do list for a while. He has last cut off Russia from the internet as a test half a year ago.

This "internet switch" has been unpopular in Russia and led to protests against it. Since then, the switch to render the Russian segment autonomous has gone operational.

The specific method is to switch off the major transnational connection points and replace all ISP DNS. Some connectivity would remain, but it would be insufficient to carry the full volume of the civilian traffic.

The military and the wealthy that can afford satellite connections would generally only experience a reduction in bandwidth. The IP protocol can be rerouted, so the technically savvy and the large businesses could still reach the outside world via proxies and radio/satellite bridges.

Note that internet connectivity in the EU would also be affected, as the major cables between the EU and China/Korea/Japan pass through Russia. However, there are enough submarine cables that lower bandwidth communication can be maintained through third countries.

From https://www.submarinenetworks.com/zh/systems/eurasia-terrestrial

Doing it from the outside is harder. If done across the borders with Europe, the US and Japan, Russian traffic would be routed through China and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has already successfully tried cutting off their internet through similar means, however it would side with Russia.

This would technically permit most traffic to be filtered by the Great Firewall, which is more mature and effective than Russia's fragmented filters implemented individually by various ISPs. China would then be able to affect the flow of data to and from Russia.

In summary: it's possible to significantly reduce Russia's internet connectivity. However, it would disproportionately affect the common population and their access to Western media.

As such, internet restrictions are more likely to support Putin rather than hurt him. Some of the population wouldn't notice, some would have to switch to local media and services, the technically inclined would find a way around.

Mar 4 update: It has started.

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  • Thanks for the technical explanation. As to your last point, I am not sure I would agree there. If Russia is cut of, that would mean it is cut off completely. What Putin wants is to effectively filter what the Russian people can and can not view. He is already doing this with Twitter and Facebook is my understanding. A full cut would not give him that flexibility anymore. Feb 27 at 14:31
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    I've clarified it somewhat. China and Russia have their local counterparts to most Western services, so they wouldn't lose the internet as a whole. What they'd lose is easy access to Western media and services.
    – HK-51
    Feb 27 at 14:58
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From the body of the question it seems that the question is not merely "is it physically possible", but whether it's a good idea.

Even if it was technically possible, it's not advantageous for Western powers to cut the internet from the Russian public.

The internet is used for propaganda purposes by both sides. If the internet is cut, it ensures that the Russian public only gets propaganda from the Russian government.

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  • I should have worded that better, I agree. Of course it does not benefit the west when we cut of Russia. Every single sanction imposed on the Russians hurts the west as well. But thinking you can impose sanctions without hurting yourself is probably a little naïve. My personal believe is that Russia should be completely isolated form the rest of the world. Pretty much like the way it was (though self-imposed by Russia) during the cold war. I know it is a little extreme, but I do feel like that. Feb 27 at 14:26
  • "If the internet is cut, it ensures that the Russian public only gets propaganda from the Russian government." One could argue that this would not be much worse than it already is, given the amount of propaganda from the Russian government.
    – Trilarion
    Feb 27 at 14:41
  • @Joey, remember that during the Cold War the West went to a lot of effort to break the self-imposed isolation of the USSR, mostly through radio broadcasts. Giving access to the alternative sources of information is in direct West's interests.
    – Zeus
    Feb 27 at 23:58
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  • Cutting Russia off is putting it the wrong way.
    The West could simply put an axe to the cables where they cross into Russia. But not all connections are physically routed through Western countries. The internet protocols would try to re-route. China would have to go along, to name just one major player.
    More practical, the West could monkey with the Domain Name Service and de-register the .ru domain. But Russia could keep that going domestically, and again somebody could run an alternate DNS host.
  • Cutting Russia off is highly undesirable from a Western viewpoint.
    While the West complains about Russian disinformation and interference, Russia complains about Western attempts to influence the Russian public. Through Western media, for instance. And a color revolution by the Russian people against their current government would be just about the best-case outcome for the Western governments ... thereby vindicating the fear of the Russian government.
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  • Well, theoretically, you could prevent the internet protocols from rerouting through China by cutting China off from the Internet as well...
    – nick012000
    Mar 2 at 4:50

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