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Coda Story’s Russian Website Blocked by Kremlin

News Brief

The Russian government has blocked the in-depth Russian news site Codaru.com, according to its staff, in what they believe is part of a wider clampdown aimed at the popular messaging service, Telegram.

It’s less than a month since the site was launched as a Russian-language equivalent to Codastory.com, but it is now all but inaccessible to users in Russia without a virtual private network (VPN), or other similar means of circumventing state internet controls.

Staff at Codaru.com believe they have been swept up in the Kremlin’s ongoing efforts to block access to the widely-used Telegram app, a move that has affected millions of Russian websites.

Editor Alexey Kovalev’s email to Roskomnadzor’s “hotline” was met with a “delivery error.”

The U.S. online giants Amazon and Google have also been caught up in the crackdown, after Telegram tried to use their cloud services to evade the Kremlin’s controls. Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s online censor, has been banning millions of IP addresses as part of its efforts to cut off access to Telegram, in what amounts to a digital game of “whack-a-mole.”

Among the IP addresses added to the barred list were those of a company called Digital Ocean, which provides hosting services to Codaru.com. Alexey Kovalev, the site’s editor, says traffic has dwindled to virtually zero since the ban. Thousands of other sites have been affected.

This online struggle dates back to April 13, when a Moscow court ruled that Telegram should be blocked in Russia if it did not allow the Russian security services access to its users’ communications.

The FSB, Russia’s main domestic intelligence service, claims that extremists have been using Telegram’s famously secure “secret chat” feature to plot attacks.

When Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov refused to comply with the order, Roskomnadzor ordered Russian internet service providers to block Telegram’s websites and servers across Russia.

Telegram immediately reverted to Amazon and Google’s cloud services, which Roskomnadzor then also tried to ban, along with a “black list” of other IP addresses.

Kovalev said he had written several letters to Roskomnadzor’s “hotline” email account, complaining about the blocking of Codaru, but all have been met with messages saying “delivery error.”

In the meantime, Telegram itself still remains available in Russia, though with unreliable connections, and it’s lost just a small percentage of its users.