The world’s internet infrastructure has no central authority. To keep it working, everyone needs to rely on everyone else. As a result, the global patchwork of undersea cables, satellites, and other technologies that connect the world often ignores the national borders on a map. To stay online, many countries must rely on equipment outside their own confines and control. Nation-states periodically attempt to exert greater authority over their own portions of the internet, which can lead to shutdowns. Last month, for example, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo turned off its internet during a highly contested presidential election. Now Russia, too, wants to test whether it can disconnect itself from the rest of the world, local media reported last week. But Russia is much larger than the DRC, and it has significantly more sophisticated infrastructure. Cutting itself off would be an onerous task that could have myriad unintended consequences. If anything, the whole project illustrates just how entangled—and strong—the global internet has become. “What we have seen so far is that it tends to be much harder to turn off the internet, once you built a resilient internet infrastructure, than you’d think,” says Andrew Sullivan, CEO of Internet Society, a nonprofit that promotes the open development of the internet.
According to local news reports, Russia’s disconnection test is part of a new law parliament proposed in December, which would require the country’s internet providers to ensure the independence of Runet, or Russia’s internet. The regulation would mandate that Russian ISPs have the technical means to disconnect from the rest of the world and reroute internet traffic through exchange points managed by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications and media regulator. The country reportedly wants to test Runet’s independence by April 1, though no official date has been set and the new regulation has yet to pass. Roskomnadzor did not respond to a request for comment.
The internet was invented in the United States, and US companies now control a significant portion of the infrastructure that powers it. It’s possible that Russia simply wants to gain more autonomy over Runet, but Russian president Vladimir Putin could also be seeking to beef up his cyberwar capabilities or to further censor the online information available to his citizens. While its motives are fuzzy, what’s clear is that Russia has been preparing for greater internet independence for years. In fact, it first proposed disconnecting from the global net back in 201