If you live in Russia, you probably have heard about the internet law passed earlier this year. This law requires ISPs to monitor their customers’ activity and ban several websites, including social media. But if you install VPN in Russia, you may be able to access thousands of websites without restrictions.
Russia-Ukraine War Forces Kremlin to Cut Ties with the Global Internet
Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine around February 24, Russian officials have attempted to cut off their nation’s internet from the rest of the world. The Kremlin blacklisted three social media platforms, 93 antiwar websites, 138 financial websites, and over 400 news websites.
Rise in VPN Subscriptions in Russia
Many Russians used VPN services as exits from Moscow’s constricting internet as the number of prohibited websites increased.
VPN services link users in one nation’s restricted internet to a site in another region with fewer restrictions. VPN providers claim that the proportion of Russian users has increased since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Since the conflict began, almost a million Russians have signed up for VPN service, 20 times the average rate, based on the VPN provider Windscribe. According to Psipho, after the Kremlin decided to control Instagram, daily active subscribers in Russia fell to 650,000.
Local VPN Providers Subjected to Russian Restrictions
VPN providers are still subject to Russian restrictions. As per Mikhail Klimarev, executive director of Internet Security Society, a Russian digital rights organization, “[the internet regulator] Roskomnadzor has always been responding extremely anxiously to the fast rise of the VPN sector.”
From March 13, Roskomnadzor sent more than 12,800 petitions to Google requesting that it erases URLs in accordance with the nation’s 2017 “VPN law” based on the Lumen databases.
This repository records judicial demands for the deletion of internet information. The URLs are not specified in the database, but Google did not immediately respond to WIRED’s request for comment.
For VPN providers who serve Russian consumers, life is becoming extremely challenging. According to lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein, head of the Committee on Information Policy, Information Technologies, and Communications in the Duma, Russia’s primary legislative body, over 20 VPN providers have already been blocked there, and the authorities want to stop more.
Every day, VPNs are banned, and the Kremlin continues to crack down on its efforts to control the internet.
Russian Sanctions Broaden the Challenges Faced by VPN Providers
With heightened government scrutiny, a challenge for VPN providers and sanctions make it difficult for Russian customers to shell out for their operations. Yegor Sak, the founder of Windscribe, claims that Russians may find it challenging to pay for VPN service as Visa and Mastercard have withdrawn their services from the state.
According to Sak, sanctions also make it impossible for Windscribe to find a means to pay its Russian hosting suppliers. There’s much more to be said about what the Kremlin hopes to achieve with internet restrictions and how it will affect the average Russian citizen. But at the very least, this is a clear sign that Russia is moving in a very different direction from others.