Russia Clamps Down on Twitter
March 11, 2021
regulatory body, Roskomnadzor, announced it had slowed down
Twitter’s ability to function in Russia effective Wednesday — part
of what authorities said was an initial penalty for the American
social media platform’s failure to delete illegal content inside the
According to a statement posted on Roskomnadzor’s website, 100
percent of mobile devices and 50 percent of stationary devices using
Twitter would face a disruption in service in an effort to “protect
"The mechanism envisions slowing down the transfer of photo and
video content without any limitations on text messages. Users will
be able to exchange messages freely,” Roskomnadzor official Vadim
Subbotin later clarified in comments to reporters.
Subbotin added the restrictions would remain in place until Twitter
complied with the request to remove offending content.
Failure to do so, added Subbotin, could lead to a full blockage of
Twitter inside the country.
In its statement, Roskomnadzor said Twitter had failed to remove
3,168 tweets promoting drug use, child pornography, and teenage
suicide and ignored "over 28,000 initial and repeated requests" to
address content violations.
There was no immediate comment from Twitter about the new
“Nobody has any desire to block anything,” said Kremlin spokesman
Dmitry Peskov when asked about the issue in his daily call with
“But taking measures that force the company to fulfill our laws is
President Vladimir Putin had criticized the internet for preying on
Russian youth during a meeting with young volunteers last week.
“We all unfortunately know what the internet is and how it’s used to
spread entirely unacceptable content,” said Putin, who argued the
Web should be bound by “moral laws.”
Kremlin(ru) goes dark
The moves against Twitter were quickly followed by news that a
series of key Russian government websites — including the Kremlin’s
main portal — were inaccessible to users.
Other state websites that appeared to experience problems included
the Interior Ministry, Russia’s Federal Council and Duma, the
Ministry of Economic Development and even Roskomnadzor — the
Internet governing body that announced the penalties against Twitter
to begin with.
Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development later clarified the
problems had nothing to do with the actions against Twitter but were
caused by technical issues at the state service provider Rostelecom.
Yet it was an explanation that did little to tame speculation that
something larger was unfolding online.
The coming cyberwar?
The move against Twitter marked the latest in a simmering battle
between Russia’s government and global tech companies.
The Kremlin has alleged that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are
platforms that promote content supportive of Russia’s opposition
while penalizing Russian state media content.
Earlier this month, Russia announced it was suing Twitter and four
other global tech companies for failing to delete posts expressing
support for protests against the imprisonment of opposition leader
Artem Kozlyuk of the Internet rights advocacy group RoskomSvoboda
called the government’s concerns about Twitter’s impact on the
morality of Russian youth “nothing more than a cover.”
“The real goal is to force western social media companies to limit
access to political content — anything to do with calling people out
to protest or visit an opposition website,” Kozlyuk told VOA. “If
Twitter or any of the other companies complied, they’d find the
objections of the Russian authorities suddenly disappear.”
Meanwhile, the problems with Russian government websites follow
reports the Biden administration was preparing a cyber response —-
both overt and covert — to what it insists is the Kremlin’s
responsibility for the massive SolarWinds hack of U.S. government
agency websites in 2020.
Concerns over cyberattacks, and their fallout, have been a
contentious aspect of the U.S.-Russian relationship since the 2016
U.S. presidential campaign — when the U.S. accused Russia of using
cyber tools to interfere in the race.
In 2019, Russia passed a law in defense of a "sovereign internet” —
a measure that includes a “kill switch” intended to isolate Russian
infrastructure from the worldwide web, if attacked.
Internet activists argue the action is just the latest in a series
of laws intended to tighten government control of the internet and
clamp down on free speech.
But experts have long questioned whether Russia’s internet governing
body was capable of carrying out its threats to block big tech or
the internet as a whole.
2019, Roskomnadzor was widely mocked for botching its efforts to
block the social message app Telegram. The effort to kill the
service in Russia ended up disrupting service for hundreds of
websites and commercial services, even as the app continued to
On Wednesday, analysts suggested a similar dynamic was at play in
the new fight between Russian censors and Twitter.
“Russia's slowing down of Twitter caused the outage of government
websites,” explained Andrei Soldatov, a leading expert on Russian
cybersecurity in a post to social media.
“What was meant to be partly a nationwide test of the Sovereign
Runet infrastructure, partly a warning to global platforms, (and
partly a soothing message to Putin getting emotional), failed on all
As if to underline that fact, his message was posted to…where else?