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Apr 16

Nervous Kremlin seeks to purge Russia’s internet of ‘western’ influences

Unlike Vladimir Putin, many Russians have taken to the internet with great enthusiasm. Now liberals and gay rights activists are among those feeling the heat from the Kremlin

Miriam Elder in Moscow

Demonstrators attend a protest against Kremlin policies and vote rigging in St Petersburg

Demonstrators attend a protest against Kremlin policies and vote rigging. Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Unlike other media, the internet in Russia, has developed largely untouched by the arm of the state. The protests have prompted many to wonder: is that about to change?

“It’s too late to change things,” said Anton Nossik, an internet guru. “Kids are now born into the internet and grew up in the internet. Like it or not, you have to embrace it.”

That is the view of most internet observers in Russia: that it’s too late, and too technologically complicated, to institute a China-style firewall. Yet the government is infamous for its attention to propaganda, and for the power of its suspicious spy services, and there are signs that it is seeking to boost its ability to control the internet.

Opposition bloggers and activists have already come under attack from the state, via prosecutors and the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor agency to the KGB. Some have been arrested, others called in for questioning. Websites have been shut by spurious means. But for now, it has been an entirely ad hoc approach.

“There is no strategy. They don’t know what to do,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s security services.

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