Could Russia and Its Allies Create an Alternative Internet?

Russia is one of those countries which intrigues a lot of people for various reasons. We are all too aware of this country’s mixed opinions regarding financial innovation. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect is that Russia apparently plans to create its own internet. Rumors regarding such a project have been circulating for quite some time now, but it seems this concept has a lot more merit than most people give it credit for.

An Independent Russian Internet

For those people who have no idea how the internet works, this introduction will make little sense. All one needs to know is that there is a “chief administrator” of the Internet known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. This particular entity regulates the entire internet, and it is the main reason why we can freely access information all over the world without too many restrictions. It is also worth pointing out that ICANN operates under California’s state laws, which is a significant concern for the Russian government and President Putin.

That’s because Putin’s goal is to create a stand-alone version of the internet for Russia and its BRICS allies. As a result, Russia, Brazil, India, China, and South Africa would have their own “internet” which could not be used or influenced by external parties. The purported reason for this approach is to shield these nations from external influence. It is evident, however, that it is a way to limit freedom of speech and transparency first and foremost.

Whereas some people may consider this to be nothing more than speculation and rumor, it seems this idea has a solid foundation. As the internet’s protocols are openly available, it is certainly possible to create an alternative form of interconnected networks. If Russia wishes to do so, it will need to invest in a lot of hardware and software first, but that’s not entirely impossible. Moreover, the BRICS nations would need their own Domain Name System to ensure their traffic is contained within their own walled-off environment.

Putting the technical challenges aside for a moment, one has to ponder the real-world ramifications such an alternative internet would have. Getting users to accept this new form of interconnected network would be by far the biggest challenge. After all, Russia may be successful in doing so within its own borders, but other countries may not see the benefit in it. It is physically impossible to use both the Russian Internet and the World Wide Web. Toggling back and forth between them is very tedious, as there is no software allowing one to do so right now.

Even if people accepted this alternative system, they would be very limited in what content they could access. For example, one may not be able to access Google, social media, the site of your favorite sports team, or even your trusted mail provider. Additionally, the alternative internet could enforce very strict rules in regards to which content could be viewed by its users. One obvious example is that a user of the Russian Internet would never know anything about Ukraine or what was going on in the country. 

Although all of this sounds impossible, the environment is certainly in place to trigger a scenario such as this one. There is a serious distrust between BRICS countries and the rest of the world. Cutting off the latter from their new internet would certainly get the point across. It’s highly unlikely it will ever come to this. However, we cannot simply dismiss this as a near-impossible task. The situation is well worth keeping an eye on, as troublesome as it may be.