- In Russian, “Runet” is an acronym for russkii Internet, or the Russian Internet. Despite its territorial connotation, the term includes all Russophone sectors of the World Wide Web, as well as online activity of Russian-speaking communities in Russia proper, the near abroad, Israel, the United States, and other countries. The first remote electronic connections between computers were established in the Soviet Union in 1989 between nodes located in Moscow and Siberian universities. Originally, such websites used the extension .su, which was replaced with .ru in 1994 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Internet as we know it today. In its early days, Runet existed in English or in the transliterated form of the Russian language until Microsoft’s Windows 95, with its standard for the Cyrillic alphabet, became available. The introduction of programming in Russian increased the number of computers and users during the mid-1990s; however, the economic privations associated with the 1998 ruble crisis interrupted incipient development of Russian online activity within the Russian Federation.In the post-1998 time frame, Runet grew rapidly in the traditional centers of technological innovation—Moscow and St. Petersburg— as well as portions of the Russian provinces, particularly in large urban centers like Nizhny Novgorod, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg. While Russian cyberspace started out as an environment dominated by members of the “old diaspora” of Russians in Western Europe and North America, the dawn of the new millennium saw Russian-language Internet traffic come to be dominated by Russians inside of Russia; ethnic Russians and Russophones in the comparatively more “wired” Baltic States also contributed to Runet in the early 2000s.In an environment where the oligarchs and the state dominated traditional media, Runet came to serve as a “do it yourself” publishing tool for those who did not have access to their own media outlet and yet sought to express their beliefs in public. In this sense, the Russian Internet continued the Soviet tradition of samizdat (selfpublishing), providing the Russian intelligentsia and especially the political opposition with a publishing and distribution tool. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of users grew to include 10 percent of the population, a figure that typically signifies the emergence of the Internet as a mass medium (in 2004, 55 percent of users relied on a dial-up connection to the Internet, accounting for 40 percent of traffic). Runet is one of the leading sectors of the World Wide Web in terms of the speed of growth of the number of web users, websites, and web content. This trend indicates that by 2010, up to 50 percent of the population of the Russian Federation may have regular access to the Internet. While the digital gap between Russian cities and rural areas remains, it is likely to be bridged in the future as the state now provides access to the Internet in small settlements through its postal and educational systems.The Kremlin’s attitude to Runet has changed from complete ignorance of the medium in the early days, to attempts to control the medium using Cold War technologies of censorship and surveillance at the start of the most recent decade. More recently, the government has taken an active role online, including political interventions during Vladimir Putin’s second term and supporting the rise of Dmitry Medvyedev. As the Russian government tightened its grip on traditional media following Putin’s recentralization of executive power through the 2004–2005 electoral reforms and the expansion of the vertical of power, the State Duma passed a series of laws aiming to codify and standardize the use of digital technologies in the Russian Federation. The impetus has been to shift the responsibility from Internet users to Internet and content providers, which in the long run may hinder the technological development of Runet as small players may be squeezed out of the web market. Generally, this legislation demonstrates the government’s mistrust of civil society, especially nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and any independent organizations that may strengthen democracy in the country. It also demonstrates the government’s interest in monitoring new forms of communication that may threaten its control of information. Finally, it shows the government’s lack of comfort with horizontal democratic structures that might challenge the existing hierarchal administrative and political system.Despite these retrograde tendencies, Runet remains Russia’s most democratic and open medium. While political satire is banned on Russian television, it continues to thrive online, with some sites offering textual and visual parodies of the government and its leaders. In addition to political activity, Runet is the space for artistic expression. Since the mid-1990s, digitized visual art has thrived on the Russian Internet in the form of flash animation, online gaming, and other digital projects. LiveJournal has been the main platform for communication among Russian-speaking bloggers; the proportion of Russian users of LiveJournal is so large that the portal was purchased by a Russian Internet company in 2007. There are Russian versions of other networking sites such as www.Odnoklassniki.ru and http://Vkontakte.ru, both specializing in provision of technology for social networks. Additionally, the video sharing site RuTube has emerged as a national version of YouTube.In the past few years, there has been greater commercialization of Runet with annual online advertising revenues exceeding tens of millions of dollars. The service sector of Runet has also expanded with more state-owned and private companies selling goods and providing services online. As the Internet becomes more ubiquitous—the number of Internet cafes in Russian cities has gradually decreased, indicating that more and more users have access to broadband Internet from the privacy of their homes—some social issues have been raised. One of them is the proliferation of pornography on Runet. In 2009, the Duma discussed the challenges as regards the protection of minors while using the Internet. The other important issue is the rapid spread of file-sharing sites that facilitate illegal copying of films, music, and other intellectual property.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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