Russia Cracks Down on VPN Ads Ahead of Presidential Election

Russia restricts the advertisement of VPN services on the eve of elections.

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Russia Cracks Down on VPN Ads Ahead of Presidential Election

In an attempt to control online information flow, Russia has banned advertisements for virtual private networks (VPNs) in the lead-up to the upcoming presidential election. 

This new regulation, which went into effect on March 1, 2024, targets the VPN services, allegedly offering access to web-based resources restricted by the Russian government.

While not a complete restriction on the usage of VPNs, the move highlights the ongoing struggle between the Russian government and citizens seeking unrestricted access to information online.

Why Russia is banning VPN advertising

The timing of Russia’s ban on VPN advertisements is no coincidence. With the presidential election looming, the Kremlin is tightening its grip on online censorship.

Currently, state-controlled media dominates the Russian information landscape. Moreover, the country recently introduced its alternative version to Wikipedia to increase its influence on digital narratives, Kyiv Post reported.

Earlier, Russia’s communications watchdog, Raskomnadzor, argued VPNs provided citizens access to sites banned in the country. Top of that list included Meta-owned platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

In speculating the ban on VPN services, the head of the Kremlin-supported Safe Internet League, Yekaterina Mizulina, referred VPNs, especially free ones, as a “total portal into hell,” according to The Moscow Times.

Such a move could potentially prevent voters from accessing independent news sources and critical perspectives unavailable through state-controlled media.

VPNs dragging Russia’s censorship efforts 

This isn’t the first time Russia has applied a similar tactic. Back in 2021, it blocked popular services like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and IPVanish during its parliamentary elections.

Additionally, a recent move to block VPN protocols and the messaging app Telegram seems to bear no fruit. As a result, the Kremlin is backing on restricting VPN advertising to reduce their uptake. 

Other alternatives it’s pursuing to enforce censorship include implementing a nationwide intranet that would disconnect the country from the global internet entirely. 

However, the Defense One mentions that these “experiments have met with mixed and unreliable results.”

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