To hear an independent voice in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, you can’t turn on the television or read most newspapers. But you can – so far – log onto the Internet.
Anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny has become one of the most prominent anti-Kremlin figures in Russia. Opposition groups organized mass protests in major Russian cities last year on social networking Web sites. The Kremlin, therefore, has decided to tighten its grip on the Web.
The Russian government this month began implementing a new Internet filtering policy, including a blacklist of banned Web sites. The policy is supposedly about protecting Russian minors from material about suicide, drugs or child pornography. But human rights advocates warn that the policy is intended to silence legitimate, independent speech in one of the last venues Russians have for it. Russian investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan reported on Wired.com that the technology required to enforce the blacklist would give the government the infrastructure it needs to monitor Russian Internet activity on a massive scale.
This is a leap in Internet control; not merely bullying Internet service providers or shutting down websites, the authorities appear to be moving to dig deeply into the data stream.
The Kremlin is stifling not just Russians’ freedoms, but the country’s economic potential. Silence free speech and steal elections, and corruption flourishes.
Russia is a country desperate for modernization, political and economic. Mr. Putin’s actions seem to be moving in the other direction on both fronts.