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Breaking Russia's internet backbone

Lumen joins Cogent in cutting off Russia's main internet connections.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The internet's governing bodies dismissed Ukraine's requests to cut Russia off from the internet. But now, two of the main backbone internet providers, Lumen Technologies and Cogent, have severed Russia's ties to the internet. 

Lumen, formerly CenturyLink, operates one of the world's largest Internet backbones. Effective immediately, Lumen declared it couldn't continue to operate in Russia and stopped all routing traffic for Russian organizations. Lumen's decision comes mere days after Cogent bid the Russian market adieu.

Oddly, Lumen tried to say this really didn't make that much of a difference because the "business services we provide are extremely small and very limited, as is our physical presence." And besides, "We do not have any consumer customers in Russia, but for the extremely small number of enterprise customers we have, this means we will no longer provide local Lumen services."

It's actually a much bigger deal than Lumen lets on. According to Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis for network observability company Kentik, Lumen was the top international transit provider to Russia state telecom Rostelecom and all three of Russia's major mobile operators: MTS, Megafon, and VEON.

There will also be downstream problems from these actions. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will lose some connectivity. In addition, the internet in Iran, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Russian-occupied Crimea and Abkhazia will also be affected. 

In the meantime, Russia has been cutting its own ties to major internet services. Russia has blocked Facebook and Twitter. To access these and other Western services now, people living in Russia must use illegal Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or TOR routes.

Of course, as the internet backbones are cut, connecting to outside resources will grow ever more slowly. As Madory explained, "Disconnecting their customers in Russia will not disconnect Russia… This reduction in bandwidth may lead to congestion as the remaining international carriers try to pick up the slack."

While many people welcome Russia losing the internet, this is also a mixed blessing. As Internet Society President Andrew Sullivan wrote in his essay, Why the World Must Resist Calls to Undermine the Internet, "without the Internet, ordinary citizens of many countries wouldn't know what was being carried out in their name." Sullivan continued. "Cutting a whole population off the Internet will stop disinformation coming from that population-- but it also stops the flow of truth."

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