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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Russia is planning to sever itself temporarily from the global internet, ostensibly to prepare the country to deal with a digital attack that would leave it cut off.

Why it matters: That's Russia's stated intent, but experts believe the goal is actually to wrest more control over the country's domestic internet.

The big picture: The Duma is currently considering a law submitted in December that would ensure Russia's national internet could still function in case Russia was intentionally cut off from the global internet. The trial separation would help fine tune what steps Russia might need to take for that law to succeed.

The test will take place before an April 1 deadline to submit amendments, according to the Russian outlet RBC, which first reported the story, and ZDNet, which first brought it to English.

Yes, but: Though the government of Russia has publicly expressed concern that other nations may cut it off from the internet, experts are skeptical.

  • "As a technical matter, I have a hard time imagining how a group of nations could isolate Russia completely," said Michael Daniel, former White House cybersecurity coordinator and current president and CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance. "The distributed nature of the Internet makes that prospect really challenging."
  • While the U.S. has threatened stronger actions to deal with hostile foreign cyber powers, removing a country from the internet goes a step beyond any known plans.

Between the lines: "Really, this move would be about Russia wanting to have the same capabilities that China does — in essence, to be able to control the flow of information into and out of the country," said Daniel.

Russia has long wanted more internal control over the physical routing of the internet. The internet operates on domain name system (DNS) servers, which operate like a kind of phone book, "resolving" the verbal web addresses (like "axios.com") users send from browsers into numerical internet addresses that the network understands.

  • By 2020, Russia has announced it wants to resolve as much as 95% of its DNS requests on servers within the country. Doing so would give Russia the opportunity to prevent users from accessing content the government wished to censor.
  • Preparing Russia's network to function while isolated from the global internet would help create the infrastructure the country would need to prevent citizens from circumventing national control.

There's a good chance Russia's internet test could cause a little chaos, noted Tim April, principal architect of Akamai, because much of the internet's functionality comes from globally coordinated systems — everything from web analytics platforms to synchronized timing to spam blocking lists.

China uses its tight-fisted control of its domestic internet, the so-called "Great Firewall," to keep granular control over ideas its citizens are allowed to communicate.

  • It famously bans everything from the history of Tiananmen Square to Winnie the Pooh memes.

Russia may be freer than China, but it is still restrictive about dissent. Its internet isolation test-run could be a first step toward an "Iron Firewall."

Go deeper

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Trump's volatile return to the stock market

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals 

Donald Trump this week became both a meme stock and a social-media entrepreneur at the same time, by announcing that a new company called Trump Media & Technology Group was going to merge with an existing company listed on the stock market.

Why it matters: The medium-term promise of Trump's media company is that it will replace Twitter for anybody wanting to keep track of Trump's messages. The short-term promise is that it can be a hot new speculative vehicle for people wanting to get rich quick in the stock market.

Updated 14 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.