Many tech companies have clamped down on Russia in response to Moscow’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine on 24 February, with companies including TikTok, Netflix, Apple and Microsoft all scaling back or suspending their operations in the country. Russia state-run media outlets RT and Sputnik have also been blocked in countries in Europe and the UK to combat the spread of disinformation about the war in Ukraine as Kremlin troops step up bombardment in towns and cities across the country.
Russia has retaliated by blocking access to a number of social media companies including Facebook in response to the platform restricting its state-owned media.
The Russian state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said on Friday it had also restricted access to Twitter as Western countries continued to tighten sanctions on Russia.
Now it appears Russia could be preparing to take another drastic step forward by cutting itself off from the global web and moving to its own internet.
A letter shared on Twitter by the Polish media group Nexta, which operates Telegram groups with a wide reach in Russia and Belarus, outlines an order from the Russian digital ministry.
The letter, which appears to be from Russia’s deputy digital minister Andrei Chernenko, demanded that all Russian state-owned websites and online portals transfer their domains to Russian servers by Friday, March 11.
The letter said that domains that use international domain extensions are to be switched off, with the Java code – one of the main web programming languages – of international domains – to be automatically removed from the pages.
The Russian digital ministry asked for detailed information on what the server structures of internet providers look like.
It stated that all Russian state-owned web services must make sure they have switched to domain name system (DNS) servers located on Russian soil by Friday, meaning any web services which do not do so would be cut off.
The letter has raised the suggestion that Russia could be preparing to cut itself off from the global internet entirely.
Moscow already laid the foundations for its own internet in 2019, when Putin’s government passed a law to drastically expand its control over the web, including an unprecedented move to build its own internet infrastructure known as Runet.
READ MORE: Putin’s plot EXPOSED as Russia to disrupt UK supply chains
The Sovereign Internet Law gave the Russian government more control over internet content, with the Kremlin claiming the move was intended to protect the Russian internet from security threats.
The legislation centralised control of Russia’s telecommunications systems and forced internet service providers to add surveillance and sit-blocking equipment into their networks.
Runet has since been tested a number of times, most recently last summer when Russian disconnected itself from the global internet to test the locally based network, which the Kremlin said is designed to step in to serve web pages in the event of a cyberattack or outage, according to Quartz.
The legislation was pushed through despite criticism from network experts and human rights activists who said it would threaten free speech and place heavily censor internet use.
Putin sparks panic with export ban impacting electronics [LATEST]
Poignant pictures show US bombers at UK airbase amid World War 3 fears [BREAKING]
Brexit LIVE: Bitter EU plots revenge on London [LIVE]
If launched, Runet would be completely controlled by the Russian government, with users only allowed to access content that had been approved by a central censorship authority.
The move would see Russia overtake countries such as China and Iran in internet censorship, with both countries tightly controlling the internet and censoring foreign websites. China’s “Great Firewall” apparatus heavily censors what content can and cannot be viewed in the country.
Russia’s digital ministry said on Monday that there were “no plans” to disconnect Russian from the worldwide web. It said the letter was focused on protecting Russian websites from foreign cyberattacks which have spiked in response to the war in Ukraine.
An “IT army” of hackers have been targeting Russia’s internet as Putin ramped up attacks on Ukrainian civilians, with the online hacker collective Anonymous declaring a “cyber warfare campaign” against the President and his allies.