Russia Internet access

Russia’s elections: internet access is fundamental

To uphold a semblance of democracy on and after polling day, Russian authorities must ensure open and secure internet access across Russia. Scheduled for March 15-17, Russia’s upcoming presidential election will very likely solidify Vladimir Putin’s powers for another term — further crushing civic space.

In the absence of international observers and independent media who were expelled from the country after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, dissident voices heavily rely on the internet and social media platforms to document the election process and express their disagreement with the current administration. Shutting down the internet, as has been common practice in Russia throughout keystone national events, would shroud the mid-March elections with governmental impunity.

Access Now calls on Russian authorities to uphold their international obligations and guarantee that the people of Russia have the opportunity to express their opinions online. An internet shutdown during the election would not only undermine transparency and inclusivity, but would further render the election results untrustworthy. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

In 2022 Russian authorities blocked access to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, adding Meta to a list of terrorist and extremist organizations as a form of censorship.

Since the beginning of 2024, Russia has been further intensifying its censorship, throttling YouTube, Telegram, and WhatsApp in several regions, while outlawing the advertisement of virtual private networks (VPNs) for circumvention purposes. Intolerant of critical voices and any form of solidarity against Putin’s regime, Russia has jammed mobile internet during important social events, reportedly including the funeral of Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, who was killed in prison on February 16, 2024.

In restrictive environments like Russia, the internet plays a crucial role in amplifying the online voices of those who are often repressed offline. Russia must dismantle the digital iron curtain, restore access to the blocked services, and refrain from further censorship. Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Policy Manager Eastern Europe & Central Asia at Access Now

Through an open letter,  Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition are issuing a series of recommendations to Russian authorities and telecommunication providers:

For the Russian government 

  • Ensure that the internet, social media platforms, and other digital communication channels remain open, accessible, and secure before, during, and after the elections;
  • Refrain from shutting down, throttling, or blocking the internet, or from imposing any unlawful future restrictions on internet access and telecommunications; and
  • Repeal and amend any laws and policies that legitimize internet shutdowns or that outlaw the usage of VPNs.

For telecommunications providers

  • Preserve evidence and disclose demands from Russia’s government pressuring them to disrupt internet access, or to conceal their demands; and
  • Publicly disclose details of any internet or online service disruptions.