Could Russia shut down the internet in Ukraine? – The Guardian

Analysis: On a national level, web access has so far been largely unaffected by the invasion, and supports daily life
Ukraine’s continued access to the internet not only supports day-to-day life and the country’s financial system but it is also enabling the coordination of Ukrainian civil resistance – plus the ability of everyone, from the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to ordinary citizens, to communicate with the outside world.
How much of Ukraine still has access to the internet?
Ukraine remains largely connected to the internet, especially in major population centres. Mobile networks have struggled under the weight of connections and there have been broadband outages in areas with heavy fighting.
But on a national level access to the internet is largely unaffected by the Russian invasion, according to external monitoring organisations.
“Ukraine has a diverse internet infrastructure with few choke points – which means it’s difficult to switch off the country and there’s no centralised kill switch,” said Alp Toker of the monitoring organisation NetBlocks.
“If an invading nation desired to switch off Ukraine’s internet, this would really be a matter of physically entering internet exchange points and data centres and taking over that infrastructure. And it certainly can’t be done remotely by severing a connection with, say, Russia.”
In a bid to boost connectivity, the Ukrainian telecoms regulator has temporarily released spare radio frequencies to mobile phone networks in order to allow them to relieve congestion on their services.
What is happening to the internet as Russian forces advance?
Lanet, one of the country’s leading broadband providers, apologised to customers in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk this weekend because its connection to the area had been destroyed “as a result of combat operations”.
When its users in the city, currently under heavy Russian artillery fire, asked for an update on when their broadband would be reconnected, the company said its technicians could not currently perform repairs “due to active military action on the damage site”.
One customer begged for the service to be fixed, posting on the company’s Facebook page to explain why it matters: “Journalists, correspondents, military for communication and civilians need to know what to do … we find out everything from Telegram channels and Facebook.”
How could Russia shut down the internet in Ukraine?
In recent years autocratic regimes have increasingly moved to switch off internet connections when faced with uprisings, such as in Kazakhstan in January. Many African nations have also enforced full or partial internet shutdowns when faced with internal conflict or in the run-up to elections.
Shutting down the internet is relatively easy for an incumbent government. Officials can simply order licensed internet service providers and phone networks to switch off their networks, or risk having their right to operate in the country withdrawn.
What is more difficult is for an invading power to shut down a decentralised commercial telecoms infrastructure, especially if mobile networks and internet service providers refuse to collaborate.
Toker said a targeted Russian hack or a denial of service attack could briefly take out chunks of Ukrainian communications infrastructure but would be relatively easy to mitigate.
This leaves the other scenario where Russian troops physically enter data centres or systematically destroy equipment. “Even then, it might involve coercing staff. It’s the kind of thing that might happen if there’s an attempt to unseat the government. It could well happen to prevent a counterinsurgency.”
What has Elon Musk got to do with all of this?
The American billionaire owner of Tesla and SpaceX has been developing a satellite internet system called Starlink, which aims to provide reliable global broadband connectivity through thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites.
This would be nearly impossible for Russia to block – but also requires the user to have access to a special piece of equipment.
Starlink — here. Thanks, @elonmusk pic.twitter.com/dZbaYqWYCf
Following a request from the Ukrainian government, Musk has sent a shipment of these to Kyiv – although it is unlikely that it will be possible to deploy the system at scale.
Rather than aiding the general population, it is more likely to be used strategically – such as ensuring key officials retain independent access to the internet.

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