Russia's connection with Crimea is an unsolved geopolitical quandary, but the physical connection to the Russian mainland just got a bit stronger: Crimean ISPs have transitioned over to a new 46km long underwater cable connecting directly to Russia, bypassing the old connection through Ukraine.
The new internet connection was hastily built. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced on March 24th that Rostelecom, the Russian state-owned telecommunications company, would connect to Crimea "as quickly as possible". By April 24, the 110Gbps cable installation was complete.
Internet analysis firm Renesys says that the first signals routed across the new Russia-Crimea cable came on July 17, when Rostelecom's local Crimean agent connected to the mainland. Over the past week, the company started seeing new transit through Miranda Media, the retail company representing Rostelecom in Crimea. In the past 48 hours, two of Crimea's largest ISPs activated their connections to Miranda Media. You can see Renesys's detailed analysis of the new traffic patterns here.
The new connection, crossing the narrow Kerch Strait separating Crimea and Russia, obviously provides diversity for Crimean ISPs in the event of a fault in the internet routes through Ukraine, and the Miranda Media link gives Crimean consumers faster access to Russian content than the previous Kiev-Frankfurt-Moscow link.
But the new connection has political implications, as Motherboard's Joseph Cox and Renesys's Doug Madory point out: Crimean customers connecting directly to Russia will be subject to Russian internet censorship practices, including a law just passed today that requires any blogger with over 3000 unique daily readers to register their legal identities with the Russian government. As Russia Today explains it:
[R]epresentatives have noted in press comments that the physical location of the web authors makes no difference for them — everyone writing in Russian and targeting Russian audience must comply with the rules or the access to their content would be blocked on the Russian territory.
Renesys's Doug Madory explains that the existing Crimean connection through Ukraine still provides a faster link to European and Western content. If Crimea severs that connection, fetching times could double or triple. Of course, as Madory puts it, Russia may want that connection severed in order to keep domestic internet traffic on Russian-owned connections to avoid international surveillance.