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Russia Is Censoring the Internet, With Coercion and Black Boxes

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Alexei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, appeared on a television screen from a detention center during a hearing in a Moscow court in January.

Russias Internet has brimmed with activism.

Credit: Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times

Russia's boldest moves to censor the internet began in the most mundane of ways — with a series of bureaucratic emails and forms.

The messages, sent by Russia's powerful internet regulator, demanded technical details — like traffic numbers, equipment specifications and connection speeds — from companies that provide internet and telecommunications services across the country. Then the black boxes arrived.

The telecom companies had no choice but to step aside as government-approved technicians installed the equipment alongside their own computer systems and servers. Sometimes caged behind lock and key, the new gear linked back to a command center in Moscow, giving the authorities startling new powers to block, filter and slow down websites that they did not want the Russian public to see.

The process, underway since 2019, represents the start of perhaps the world's most ambitious digital censorship effort outside China. Under President Vladimir V. Putin, who once called the internet a "C.I.A. project" and views the web as a threat to his power, the Russian government is attempting to bring the country's once open and freewheeling internet to heel.


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