“It is still difficult to assess in detail the impact of all these measures, given the often-blurred distinction between a clear political signal and ambition from the Kremlin, and its effective translation into concrete projects and changes,” says Julien Nocetti, senior associate fellow at the French Institute of International Relations, who studies Russia’s internet.
For instance, multiple Russian language app stores have appeared in recent months, but many of them have few apps available for download. According to the independent newspaper The Moscow Times, one leading app store contender, RuStore, has fewer than 1,000 apps available to download.
Other sovereign internet efforts have floundered too. RuTube, Russia’s equivalent to YouTube, has failed to gain popularity despite officials pushing its use. Meanwhile, the website of Rossgram, a potential Instagram alternative that hasn’t launched yet, displays a message saying it is “under development” and warns people not to download versions of the app they may find online as they “come from scammers.”
While many of Russia’s sovereign internet measures have struggled to get off the ground, its ability to block websites has improved since it first tried to throttle Twitter in March 2021. And other nations are watching. “Countries are learning various internet regulation practices from each other,” Shakirov says. “Russia decided to make a Chinese version of its internet, and now other countries of the post-Soviet space, Africa, or Latin America can follow this example.”
Lokot says that as more nations look to regulate the internet and do so with their national security in mind, the internet itself is put at risk. “When the conversation changes from ‘the internet as a public good’ to the ‘internet, and internet access, as a matter of national security,’ the questions change,” Lokot says. “We will potentially see some really problematic choices made by states—and not just by authoritarian states, but also by democratic states.”