Russia Built an Underwater Cable to Bring Its Internet to Newly Annexed Crimea
The Kerch Strait cable provides a link between the Crimean peninsula and Russia's Rostelecom.
The Kerch Strait. Image: Wikimedia Commons/NASA
Crimean internet service providers have started to receive their first data from Russia, according to internet analysis company Renesys. Previously, Crimea was dependent on Ukraine for internet, but a new underwater cable links the peninsula with Russia.
In March, telecoms news site TeleGeography reported that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had called for state-owned internet company Rostelecom to provide their services to the region as soon as possible. This involved the construction of the cable in the Kerch Strait, which Renesys said measures 46km and cost 400-900 million rubles (or $11-25million). It was actually finished pretty quickly, with Rostelecom declaring the project complete on April 25th. However, it took another two months until it started to be used.
Senior analyst Doug Madory, who wrote the detailed Renesys post, confirmed to me that the arrangement will mean Crimeans using services linked to the cable will be held to the same censorship controls as in Russia. This includes a new Russian law introduced today that forces all bloggers of a certain popularity to register with the government and follow the same rules as mass media in the country.
Madory speculated that the weeks in between the cable being constructed and data beginning to flow through it were due to negotiations between Rostelecom and Criemean ISPs, most likely the former convincing the latter to accept the service.
On July 17, he reported, a new customer for Rostelecom popped up, 'Miranda Media.' This "would effectively be Rostelecom's local agent in Crimea, the sole source of Kerch Strait routes." Shortly after, two Crimean ISPs, KCT and ACS-Group started to receive part of their internet service from Miranda Media, followed by CrimeaCom and CRELCOM.
As long as the data is flowing on the Kerch Strait Cable, Madory said Crimean users could be under the same controls as Russian users. "If it all went through that [Rostelecom], then they could implement or extend whatever censorship controls that they currently do in Russia to Crimea," he told me over the phone.
"There are cases of censorship being exported to another country," he continued. "In Amman [the capital city of Jordan], they were using Indian service providers for their international connections, and so in Amman you would experience Indian internet censorship."
But many Crimeans may already be getting their information from Russia anyway. In his post, Madory linked to a poll showing that the majority of Crimeans had switched to Russian media. "If they are already going to Russia media for news, then they are kind of already experiencing the censorship."
The new law that came into force today requires all bloggers with over 3,000 unique daily readers to register their real identities with the Russian government, and also creates stronger limitations on what can be published by independent writers.
And according to Russia Today, "Roskomnadzor representatives [Roskomnadzor is the Russian federal body responsible for communications] have noted in press comments that the physical location of the web authors makes no difference for them–everyone writing in Russian and targeting Russian audience must comply with the rules or the access to their content would be blocked on the Russian territory."
But the new cable doesn't mean Crimea will be disconnected from Ukraine, at least not yet. "The internet in Ukraine is primarily orientated towards the west, where most of the internet resources of Europe are" Madory told me. "In Crimea, it was to the mainland [of Ukraine], and then from the mainland to the west. And that wasn't a political decision, that was just how to optimally engineer the network."
He said that, "From a performance standpoint, setting aside any politics, they [Crimea] would want to maintain that connection to mainland Ukraine."