The war in Ukraine will further accelerate the technological rapprochement between China and Russia, as well as the regionalization and technological separation of the planet, explains Julien Nocetti, teacher-researcher at the Military Academy of Saint-Cyr and researcher at the French Institute of International Relations. At the same time, according to this cyberspace specialist, the ongoing conflict with Russia reinforces the efforts of the United States to bring Europe back into its sphere of influence.
What role does technology play in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
The digital is certainly not the heart of the war, which is carried out more with artillery and aviation than by means of lines of code. Cyberattacks, an area in which Russia is famous, have been little used so far, perhaps for fear of escalation. But there is, in the war in Ukraine, a technological dimension that we had not found so blatantly in previous crises, such as the war in Syria or Ukraine in 2014. This involves in particular the embargo on the supply of semiconductors to Russia.
Above all, we saw Big Tech [Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon…] to take a position. By withdrawing from the Russian market or by making tools for detecting
cyberattacks, these actors “weaponize” technological interdependencies. The boss of SpaceX, Elon Musk, after being arrested by the Ukrainian government, delivered his systems for receiving the Web by Starlink satellites in fifty-six hours, a tour de force in the face of the inertia of the States. In terms of power evolution, it’s symbolic.
Doesn’t Moscow’s suspension of Facebook or Instagram complete the closure of the Russian Web?
Yes, and the Russian population is the first affected by this informational war. The beginnings of this policy of digital control were already palpable since 2010-2012: at the time, the major projects of “sovereignty” of the Web were launched by Moscow [ils ont notamment fait émerger le moteur de recherche et le réseau social nationaux Yandex et VKontakte].
Today, Moscow’s will is reminiscent of the Chinese approach: it is no longer just a question of controlling content, but also of controlling all digital services and the framework of Russian cyberspace.
The Kremlin is clearly aiming for digital tightness. This was built up in small steps, according to international events and internal protests. The Navalny affair played a catalytic role, because this poisoned opponent in 2020 had built part of his influence thanks to a studied use of social networks. Today, Moscow’s will is reminiscent of the Chinese approach: it is no longer just a question of controlling content, but also of controlling all digital services (search engines, social networks, video platforms, etc.) and the backbone of Russian cyberspace – technical protocols, routers, etc. This ambition has been in Russian law since winter 2019.
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