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Op-Ed: Russia to unplug from the internet — Good move, perhaps

The disconnection is to be temporary, and “similar to China” according to a haze of not-overly-informative expert analysts. All communications will pass through Russian government-owned facilities. The rationale for this move includes everything from preparation for the likely risks of a war to a move to stricter controls and monitoring of domestic communications.
The administrative logic couldn’t be simpler – If the servers are in Russian territory, they’re under direct regulatory control of the Russian government. You may not be able to plug all the holes, but if you can plug most of them, you’ve got less operational stress on your security.
Of course, there’s a lot more to this approach. Disconnecting doesn’t mean there aren’t external connections and operators who can continue their adorable hobbies outside Russia. Disguised operators using virtual private networks (VPNs) are also not necessarily affected at all. (That said, Russia could use the new national network to crack down on VPNs as China has been doing recently, too.)
Some predict economic disruption as a result of the disconnection, but there’s no indication that any hiccups during the process can’t be corrected fairly simply. All you need to do is make the proper linkages in the networks. Irritating, possibly, and a lot of work, certainly, but no major problem, and the process sets up a standalone net for security purposes as intended.
There might be some trade issues, or commercially messy situations, but nothing serious in terms of domestic business. It’s unlikely that any disruptions would go beyond the nuisance level, unless there’s some major financial structural issue which requires the international connections.
Right security move? Probably.
The trouble with Russia is that every so often it does something right, whether anyone likes it or not. A standalone net is theoretically a lot less vulnerable. Not totally invulnerable, and hostile forces could find ways of plugging in internally, but the overall idea does at least create a barrier to the more obvious cyber risks of all kinds. As a risk management option, it does make sense. Administratively, it removes all ambiguity about jurisdiction, another plus.
Another predictable asset in the disconnection is that Russia automatically detaches itself from the very likely future of AI-run cyber warfare. That reduces the strain on security, and allows at least a bit of a shutdown capability, even if AI based cyber agents have already infiltrated the system.
The China analogy is probably wrong on the domestic level, however. Even if the Russians felt like introducing a “social credit” system, it’d be incredibly expensive (it’s an AI system) and system-intensive, well outside any real social or security need. Russia already has quite effective security on the ground for domestic needs, so why spend billions on something they don’t need?
On the international level, the West has a weird, and basically idiotic, tendency to take far too many things at a two-dimensional face value when it comes to the intelligence and security operations of both Russia and China. The usual presentation of Russian and Chinese “dastardly” behaviour is of two single entities, as state-run monsters.
That’s almost laughable, except this image is presented by alleged adults. Both China and Russia have multi-tier operational capacities which don’t involve some sort of cyber war high school gang organization.
There are “formal” (acknowledged official) and “informal” (whatever works) structures, to start with . The usual story is that whatever is visible and acknowledged is at best only part of the whole story. Both Russia and China are well aware that they’re also big targets in cyber space, so they don’t simply do these things like a show and tell exercise.
A Great Wall, for example, is very likely to have a Great Minefield or several attached to it. The Peter and Paul fortress in Russian cyberspace is quite likely to be a dummy fortress, and/or not in St. Petersburg anyway. The mere fact that the Russians have bothered to mention they’re disconnecting is quite probably as much a PR exercise as anything else. They’ve probably had the capacity to disconnect and shut down in critical areas for a long time, and have now figured out how to do it on a national basis.
The one and only joke ever recorded of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was about Russian diplomacy. When informed that the Russian ambassador had died, Bismarck asked what the ambassador’s motive could have been. That view is probably the best perspective on this disconnection. There’ll be more reasons than the obvious.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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