The Russian web is a sort of public intermediate space, and obviously it was very useful for the opponents to criticize the government or the regional authorities. From this point of view, it is very important to be observed to try to anticipate some changes in Russian politics in the next two years.
interview with Thomas Gomart, Director of the Russia/Newly Independent States Centre at IFRI (French Institute of International Relations), member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
How do you assess the Russian internet, in general? Is it different from the English web or not, in political terms?
First of all, we should make a distinction between the official position on the internet as a political issue for the Russian government, and what happens in domestic terms. In the first case, it's very interesting to observe the desire by the Russian state to get back on the web. It was expressed, for instance, during the United Nations General Assembly in September, 2011, when Russia made a joint proposition with China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to try to promote a sort of state control of the internet. So that's one thing, and it will be more and more important for the international positioning of Russia in the coming years.
Secondly, regarding the domestic issue, it's very important, that there is a high level of maturity of the Russian web in political terms. For instance, the comparison of the situation in China and in Russia in this respect does not make sense, from my point of view. The Russian web is a sort of public intermediate space, I would say, very often used by opponents before the elections, and obviously it was very useful for the opponents to criticize the government or the regional authorities. So from this point of view, it is something very transformative, and very important to be observed to try to anticipate some changes in Russian politics in the next two years.
Regarding the political maturity of the Russian internet – how can we compare it, for example, with the United States or Europe, when the Occupy movements were synchronized through the internet?
Now the question is also about the evolution in Russia – and not only in Russia, but in every political system – of the relationship between individuals and institutions. And this relationship, these links, will be deeply transformed thanks to the web in every political system, and mainly in Russia.
Would it be possible for the Russian authorities to control the web, as they control the traditional media?
I don't think so. It's much more complicated, as you know – to pretend to control the web is very challenging. Ask people who try to do so – ask Mubarak, for instance, about this idea, and you will see the consequences of this stupid idea. It's very difficult to do so. But there are two ways, to try not to control, but to manage it, first of all, through capital. If you have pure players in Russia, it's possible to have an impact on their capital, because that's business, so it's possible to push around money to gain some assets and to try to exert an influence in this way. And the second one, as I said in my first answer, is to try to set up an international position on these issues, dealing with Europe, China, and the U.S. to try to propose a Russian point of view on the web.