For almost a decade and with increased efforts since the last presidential election, Russia’s internet police have been attempting to control its citizens’ access to the internet.

In recent weeks Roskomnadzor, the federal agency tasked with monitoring, controlling and censoring Russian mass media has stepped its activities up a gear. The levels of control are unparalleled since 2018, when it attempted to close down the Telegram messaging platform resulting in millions of web addresses being blocked.

In 2021, “equipment failure” at Rostelecom resulted in widescale internet disruption, which included the Kremlin’s website. Then on the evening of Jan. 30 this year, Russia’s internet suffered internet outages that activists and experts said was the most widespread and far-reaching ever experienced.

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Within minutes disruption spread across the entirety of Russia's Internet, with nearly every major Russian internet company, including Yandex, the country's largest search engine, going down for more than two hours.

Commentators feel that this was caused by yet another attempt by the Kremlin to convert Russia’s internet into an “isolated network environment.” For years, Russian regulators have been putting the legal and technical infrastructure in place to provide total control and multi-level monitoring of internet use by directing all websites through one common entity, commonly referred to as “RuNet.”

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One of the main vehicles for this is the “System for Operative Search Activities” (SORM). This is the mandatory installation of a device by all Internet service providers that allows the Federal Security Service (FSB) to collect and monitor all internet activity that occurs on RuNet.

This is combined with increased state control over the country’s biggest internet companies. According to RFE/RL, there has been increased oversight of how Yandex provides search results in a certain area, particularly in relation to the war in Ukraine. VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook, was taken over by state-owned companies managed by Kremlin-allied oligarchs.

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It seems that the next step will be the creation of a “super app” that would absorb a huge range of online activities into a single application. The app would be used as a social media platform for chatting and texting, dating, paying taxes, utility bills, traffic fines and so on.

When all else fails, they can resort to simply blocking specific undesirable users. As the election approaches Roskomnadzor and VKontakte have blocked protest campaigns against the presidential election.

On Saturday the website of the “Noon against Putin” which called for voters to hold off on casting their vote until midday on March 17, the last day of voting, and to either spoil their ballot or vote for “anyone other than Putin.”

The Just World project, also called for voters to come to polling stations at the last minute and create queues to prevent votes being cast or to inscribe “Fair World” on the ballot paper. Its YouTube channel was also blocked on Saturday and by VKontakte on Sunday.

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Also on Sunday the website of the “10 Steps” program, which disseminates information about the elections, deploys observers to polling stations and shared the aims of the Noon for Putin movement was blocked.

Roskomnadzor has also blocked any site that posted the Jan. 27 article from the Free Russia project that advocated election protests calling for voters to spoil their ballots and also supported the Noon for Putin approach.

In addition, Russia has been struggling for the last five years to prevent the use of virtual private networks, VPNs, that allow users to circumvent the official channels and hide the users’ identities and locations through the so-called “sovereign Internet” law.

Barriers to free expression and passage of information and new political ideas that the Kremlin puts in place are constantly being eroded via mechanisms like VPNs, particularly among the internet-savvy younger generation who some analysts say are less prepared to swallow the Putin “party line” than their grandparents.

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