Putin Says Will Boost Internet Security Without 'Total Control'
MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he would not impose total control over the Internet, despite sweeping government moves to impose surveillance and crack down on dissent.
Russia's moves to tighten security over the Internet have provoked widespread alarm in a country where social media and online news sites are crucial outlets for the political opposition.
The Russian leader, who is a former KGB agent and briefly headed the FSB security service, said he did not want to "limit access to the Internet (or) place it under total control" at a meeting with ministers and security chiefs aired on state television.
"I would like to stress: there will not be any unjustified limitations, let alone total ones. We are not even considering them," Putin was quoted as saying in a transcript on the Kremlin website.
But Russia needs "to develop and carry out a number of extra measures to protect information," he said.
"It is necessary to increase the security of Russian communications networks and information resources," he added.
In an apparent reference to the United States, Putin said "certain countries" dominated the Internet and were trying to use this "soft power" to achieve "not just economic but also military and political aims".
Russia has ramped up its anti-Western rhetoric during the conflict in Ukraine and has cited national security to rush through wide-ranging controls on the Internet.
The moves have prompted fears that the Kremlin could entirely cut Russians' access to the rest of the World Wide Web.
Respected business daily Vedomosti said earlier this month that authorities were considering bringing in measures next year to unplug Russia from the rest of the Web in emergency situations, such as major protests or military hostilities.
Sergei Plugotarenko, the head of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, an industry group, said he viewed Putin's latest comments as positive.
"He said firmly there will not be a single switch to instantly cut off the Russian sector from the global one and that this was unacceptable. That's already good news."
But Plugotarenko cautioned that it was essential to wait and see whether Putin's orders to ministers and security agencies matched his words.
Putin's comments prompted scepticism from some Internet users, however.
Putin "said Russia won't limit Internet access but will just block all the sites that seem illegal," wrote a satirical Twitter feed, Dezinformbyuro, reposted by opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Tough curbs on cyberspace
Russia's 61-year-old strongman has previously said the Internet is controlled by the United States and called it a "CIA project."
He warned Russians against making any Google searches because, he said, all information "goes through servers that are in the (United) States."
Russia gave political asylum to Edward Snowden after the fugitive security contractor exposed the extent of surveillance by the US National Security Agency.
Putin's evident distrust of the Internet, which he once described as "half pornography", contrasts with the attitude of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who posts photographs on Twitter and is regularly shown using his iPad.
The authorities have already introduced tough curbs on the cyberspace, including a law requiring Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to store all personal data of Russian users in the country.
Lawmakers have also passed a requirement for bloggers to register as media if they have more than 3,000 followers and a law that could see Russians imprisoned for up to five years for retweeting "offensive" information.
A government agency has been granted the powers to block blacklisted Internet sites without a court order.
Earlier this year the founder of Russia's top social network VKontakte, Pavel Durov, fled the country after selling his share in the company under pressure from the security services.
There are some 70 million Internet users in Russia, around half of the population.