Illustration: NurPhoto via AFP/Jaap Arriens

A top information-technology adviser to President Vladimir Putin has indicated in an interview that Russia could disconnect itself from the global Internet in time of war to lessen its vulnerability to the West.

“Technically, we are ready for any action now,” Herman Klimenko reportedly told Russian television station NTV on March 6. But Klimenko added that any such moves, even short of hostilities, would not be painless for Russia – in an apparent allusion to the country’s dependence on links to the global Internet.

US military website Defense One, in picking up the story, says Moscow has been working for the past two years on ways to allow its military to rely solely on internal networks during wartime. The effort is said to have expanded into a wider push to isolate Russia’s government and civil society digitally from external Internet links if the need arises.

“In 2016, the government began to operate the Closed Data Transfer Segment, an internal intranet for military and other officials. Klimenko seems to have suggested that the Segment could handle traffic for the rest of the country as well,” Defense One wrote.

Russia has been far more open in connecting to the World Wide Web than China, which created a “Great Firewall” to screen and regulate domestic Internet traffic. But Defense One says Moscow has also been focusing on limiting the country’s dependence on foreign information tech.

Among other things, it has favored using a Linux-based operating system to cut reliance on US-made Microsoft products. Russia also said last year that it was building an alternative Domain Name System for use by itself, Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

Putin has also publicly referred to the Internet as a project of the US Central Intelligence Agency. The ARPANET network, the widely accepted prototype for today’s Internet, was invented by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during the Cold War.

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