Russia may have claimed Crimea as its own, but it takes much more than annexation to truly integrate the peninsula into the mainland. One of those steps has just been completed, as a large portion of Crimean internet traffic is now being routed through Russia for the first time. According to research from internet analysis company Renesys, internet signals started flowing through a newly-constructed submarine cable connecting Crimea to Russia on July 24th.
The process didn't happen over night. After Russia annexed Crimea in late March, officials started work on bringing the peninsula into the fold. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted on March 24th saying that "it is necessary to ensure that [state-owned Russian telecommunications company] Rostelecom and its subsidiaries come to Crimea as quickly as possible." He cited concerns that "sensitive information and documents ... are [being] relayed by foreign telecommunications companies," and immediately ordered construction of a roughly 28-mile cable underneath the Kerch Strait to connect Crimea to Russian internet systems. That cable was completed on April 25th.
New internet, new censorship?
Now that much of Crimea's internet traffic is flowing through Russia, citizens there will most likely be subject to the country's expanding web censorship. Doug Madory of Renesys tells Motherboard that "if it all went through [Rostelecom], then they could implement or extend whatever censorship controls that they currently do in Russia to Crimea." A recent bill requires all bloggers with 3,000 or more readers to register as members of the media, putting them under some of the same censorship controls as TV and print outlets. Sites that are deemed "illegal" and shut down by Russian authorities would also be inaccessible via internet connections that go through Russia. Currently, Crimea's old internet connections through Ukraine and Europe are still online — it's currently unclear if Russia will eventually shut these down to take complete control.