Cyberwars: Is Putin Going to Cut Off Russia’s Internet?

Russia ButtonFew politicians today elicit the same level of controversy as Vladimir Putin. Adored by many Russians at home and abroad, he is also reviled by many for his near-absolute grip on power, intimidation of political opponents, political repression, and military aggression against neighboring states. But in this latest coup de grace, Putin may be seeking the kind of power that few modern states enjoy – the ability to shut down his country’s access to the internet.

According to the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, Putin and his security council met this past Monday to discuss a way to disconnect Russia’s internet should it be deemed necessary. According to various sources, it is a tool that could be enacted in times of war, massive anti-government protests, or in order to “protect” Russians from Western countries like the United States or members of the European Union.

putin-sanctions-west-response.si_Citing an intelligence officer as their source, Vedomosti claims that this is the result of the Ministry of Communications conducting exercises to test vulnerabilities in Russia’s internet and can now successfully disable IP addresses outside of Russia. All of this is being done in order to see if the Runet (Russia’s internet) can operate on its own without Western web access, with the hope that it will be functional next year.

It is not hard to imagine the Kremlin justifying such a clamp-down by whipping up fears that it’s the West that wants to disconnect Russia from the web, said industry experts. In Russia’s current political environment, anti-western propaganda has been used effectively to create the impression of a siege mentality, used largely to justify their current economic woes and the ongoing Ukrainian Crisis.

RunetAnalysts say similar measures have been introduced by countries such as Iran and Cuba, which developed national Internet limits to curb the spread of Western culture and ideas. Prior to the meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the Security Council meeting on Internet security would be taking place, but he declined to discuss details of the agenda.

In addition, he denied that Russian authorities have plans to disconnect the Internet, instead insisting this is a question for other countries to answer. He also added that Russia needs a way to protect itself from the West. Peskov cited the “unpredictability” of the European Union and the United States before implying that these countries would in fact disconnect Russia from the Internet and not the reverse.

russia-internet-putin-670-1In a statement to Russia Today – a government-run website launched in 2005 by Putin as a “PR campaign to improve [Russia’s] image in the eyes of the world.”- Russia’s communications minister, Nikolay Nikiforov, said:

Russia is being addressed in a language of unilateral sanctions: first, our credit cards are being cut off; then the European Parliament says that they’ll disconnect us from SWIFT*. In these circumstances, we are working on a scenario where our esteemed partners would suddenly decide to disconnect us from the internet.

*Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication

The “unilateral sanctions” he refers to are the ones that were placed upon Russia by the US and the EU in response to its seizure of the Crimea, which have since escalated thanks to Russia’s ongoing involvement in the eastern portions of Ukraine where rebels – whom many claim have been supplied with Russian-made weapons and are now being supported by Russian troops – continue to fight against the new Kiev government.

Ukraine_crisisInterestingly enough, whether it is the West that disconnects Russia from the Internet or if it is Putin that does so, both possibilities highlight the world’s dependence on Western internet. In fact, many countries, including Brazil and Germany, have been complaining about this since Edward Snowden’s revelations last year. Putin himself has expressed concern over the NSA spying on him via the web and the security of the internet in his country in the past.

Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether or not it could be done. According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian spy expert who recently spoke to the Guardian on the subject, claims that it is technically possible given how few internet exchange points Russia has. However, it seems unlikely at this point that Putin would do this given the repercussions for Russian businesses that rely on the Western internet to function.

russia_protestsAlready, Russia has been feeling the pinch because of Western sanctions, particularly sanctions targeting its oil industry that have been leading to a drop in prices. At this rate, several economists and even Russian ministers are predicting a recession in the near future. This in turn could present Putin with a scenario whereby he would have to disconnect the internet, in order to block mass protests sites in the event of people protesting the economic downturn.

Similar measures have been taken in the past by countries like Egypt, Iran, Syria, China, the UK, and Thailand, who chose to block Facebook at various points because protesters were using it to organize. Venezuela also blocked Twitter this year during times of political unrest to prevent people from sharing information and real-time updates. But a total disconnect has yet to be seen, or even seriously contemplated.

russia-censorshipWhether or not Putin and Russia’s ruling party is the first to do so remains to be seen. But it is not entirely unfeasible that he wouldn’t, even if economic consequences were entailed. For as the saying goes, people will “cut off their nose to spite their face”, and Putin has already shown a willingness to challenge his country’s economic interdependence with the world in order to ensure control over neighboring territories.

One can only hope that he won’t feel the need to snip his country’s connection to the rest of the world. In addition to ensuring its ec0nomic isolation – which would have dire consequences and reduce the country to the status of a developing nation – it will also resurrect the specter of the Cold War years where Russians were effectively cut off from the outside world and entirely dependent on state-controlled media.

We’ve simply come too far to go back to an age where two superpowers are constantly aiming nuclear warheads at each other and entire blocs of nations are forbidden to trade or interact with each other because of political rivalries. History does not respect regression, and the only way to make progress is to keep moving forward. So let’s keep the internet open and focus on building connections instead of walls!

Source: motherboard.com, news.discovery.com, ibtimes.com

Climate Crisis: City Farms

dragonfly-vertical-farm-for-a-future-new-york-1Hello again, folks. As you all know, this summer has brought some rather dire news on the climate front as unpredictable weather patterns have led to flooding in many parts of the world. And as climatological researchers and scientists have predicted, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as rising global temperatures will lead to melted icecaps, higher sea levels, severe droughts, wildfires and coastal storms.

But as I always like to point out, there are solutions to these problems, or at least ways to mediate them. Given the central role played by overpopulation and urban sprawl in climate change, many of these proposed solutions have to do with finding new ways to house, feed, and provide from future generations – ones which emphasize sustainability and clean energy.

city_farmsWhen it comes to feeding future generations of people, the question of what will be on the menu and where it comes from are paramount. In recent decades, massive crop failures, protracted droughts, and numerous food-borne disease outbreaks caused by microbes such as salmonella, E. coli, toxoplasma and listeria have forced people to contemplate where their food comes from and how it is produced.

The proposed solution is to rethink farming, moving out of the old paradigm of farming the lands around human settlements and moving them inside. These city-based agricultural projects include rooftop gardens, rooftop greenhouses, planting beds, empty lots as farmland, and vertical farms that occupy tall buildings and abandoned warehouses. Collectively, these examples show the validity of growing food in the city. Not only could be they be carried out efficiently, but they could also operate without the pollution associated with outdoor farming.

city_farms1In truth, the concept is not entirely new, as “victory gardens” or other variants have been a means of producing agricultural goods whenever national farms found themselves overburdened. These were all the rage in Britain, Canada, the US and Germany during World War I and II when naval blockades and military demand forced people to plant their own vegetables in their backyards.

In addition, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba found itself in a serious agricultural crisis. As a result, they turned to a vast network of ‘organoponicos’ – growing food for city dwellers in spare plots. These miniature agricultural operations not only staved off starvation and malnutrition during times of shortages, but became a model for sustainable local efforts that are currently being used around the world.

city_farms2For example, in Wilcox, Arizona, their is the EuroFresh Farms indoor-operation – a 318 acres (1.3 square km) of one-storey-high hydroponic greenhouses that supplies fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.  Similarly, the FarmedHere operation in Bedford Park, Illinois consists of a 8,360 square meter (90,000 square foot) empty warehouse that is several storeys tall that produces tilapia, a variety of leafy green vegetables, and several value-added products.

And in Sweden, the company known as Plantagon is building a vertical farm in the city of Linkoping, and has partnered with a Chinese company to research similar methods for the state of China. In addition, limited forms of vertical farming also exist in Japan, Korea, Singapore, the United States, and Canada, with new farms being planned for a number of cities in the United States.

city_farms4As always, technological innovation is assisting in the process. This includes such things as grow lights that have replaced expensive fluorescent fixtures with light-emitting diodes that can be adapted to emit light spectra tailored for growing green plants. In addition to costing less to run, their yields are demonstrably higher, especially where leafy greens and tomatoes are concerned.

Another concept which is being embraced is aquaculture – indoor fish hatcheries – which could provide meat protein to go with all these vegetables. Such operations include Hazorea Acquatics, a koi farming operation, as well as the carp and mullet farm pictured below, both of which are located in Israel . Similar operations are popping up in the US, Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland and Canada, where barramundi, sturgeon, tilapia, eels, catfish, trout and salmon are being raised.

city_farms5Looking to the long-run, urban agriculture has the potential to become so pervasive within our cities that by the year 2050 they may be able to provide its citizens with up to 50% of the food they consume. In doing so, ecosystems that were fragmented in favor of farmland could be allowed to regain most of their ecological functions, forests could recover, and the impact on the environment would very beneficial, for the planet as well as humanity.

In addition to ensuring that the greatest consumers of CO2 – trees and other flora – could re-advance on the landscape, allowing natural spaces to recover from the damages of agriculture would also bring countless species back from the brink of extinction. Loss of habitat is one of the chief causes of wildlife becoming endangered, and farm runoff is one of the greatest factors effecting our rivers and fish stocks.

Combined with water treatment and recycling that also happens on-site, solar, wind and peizoelectric power, and carbon capture that can turn CO2 into biofuel, skyscrapers and urban environments may very well advance to become at the forefront of the sustainability, environmental and clean energy movement. What was once the problem would thus become the solution. Truly innovative…

Source: bbc.com/future