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Disconnect Russia from the Internet? The Wikimedia Foundation warns about the dangers of doing so

Disconnecting Russia from the internet is not a good idea. Despite the fact that ICANN rejected Ukraine's request to revoke Russian domains, the Wikimedia Foundation fears that new sanctions could leave the inhabitants of Russia and Belarus without access to the network.

Wikimedia and 35 other civil society organizations sent a letter to the President of the United States, Joe Biden, asking for guarantees that the people of Russia and Belarus will not be held incommunicado.

The signatories, among which are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and the Spanish Xnet, warned about the dangers of disconnecting both countries. Restrictions on internet service will only accelerate government violence and repression.

This would not only harm those who want to learn about the war in Ukraine, but also about local events

We urge all actors considering taking measures that would limit Internet access in the Russian Federation to carefully consider the full impact of such measures and their potential unintended consequences, and to act specifically, openly and strategically, in accordance with the international human rights principles of legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.

The letter makes an urgent call to the US Department of the Treasury to issue a general license that authorizes the provision of services, software and hardware necessary to connect to the Internet. The economic sanctions would have caused two major providers to interrupt their service in Russia.

Cutting off the internet would enhance censorship and misinformation

People demonstrate outside the White House against Russia's invasion of Ukraine Cogent Communications and Lumen, two US companies, announced a few days ago that they had canceled their operations in the country. “Given the increasingly uncertain environment and the heightened risk of government action, we are taking this action to ensure the security of our networks and those of our customers, as well as the continued integrity of the global Internet,” Lumen said on its website.

The requested license considers that the internet is essential for the protection of freedom of expression and access to information. Countries with strong economic sanctions — such as Cuba, Iran and Syria — have these permits.

Peter Miceck, general counsel for Access Now, said the United States should warn tech companies and governments that support Ukraine that cutting off internet services in Russia or Belarus would be counterproductive. “We call on the Biden Administration and allied governments to ensure that their sanctions do not tighten Putin's control over information and ideas,” he stated.

The letter indicates that restricting access to foreign communications platforms would force the inhabitants of Russia to depend on local services . Civil organizations point out that these alternatives are controlled by Russian authorities, who exercise aggressive censorship and surveillance.

Russia plans to disconnect from the internet

Reuters /Ria Novosti Despite the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation and other organizations advocate avoiding an internet cutoff, Russia has been planning its alternate version for some time. Vladimir Putin, following the Beijing rulebook to the letter, proposes a parallel universe known as RuNet.

Russia has already passed a law that allows it to block any internet content it deems suspicious, or shut down connections within the country. Under the pretext of providing a secure connection against external attack, the government will monitor web traffic and data.

The country has already carried out its first drill to disconnect from the internet and it was successful. The war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed by the West seem to be the perfect pretext for the deployment of the largest local network in the world. The RuNet would give Russia greater power over services and official discourse, exerting more control over its citizens.