“This idea is absurd, awkward and useless. Cyrillic domains are just the first step toward fundamentally creating a separate and fully controlled ‘territory’ in the global network. All these measures will significantly weaken, if not eliminate, the possibility of foreign information influencing the population of Russia, especially the younger generation. It will ensure that their vision of the world better corresponds to the ideology of Russia’s rulers.”
The New York Times reports:
The Kremlin has long been irritated by the way the United States dominates the Internet, all the way down to the ban on using Cyrillic for Web addresses — even kremlin.ru has to be demeaningly rendered in English. The Russian government, as a result, is taking the lead in a landmark shift occurring around the world to allow domain names in languages with non-Latin alphabets.
Russians themselves, though, do not seem at all eager to follow.
Cut off for decades under Communism, Russians revel in the Internet’s ability to connect them to the world, and they prize the freedom of the Web even as the government has tightened control over major television channels.
But now, computer users are worried that Cyrillic domains will give rise to a hermetic Russian Web, a sort of cyberghetto, and that the push for Cyrillic amounts to a plot by the security services to restrict access to the Internet. Russian companies are also resisting Cyrillic Web addresses, complaining about costs and threats to online security.
“This is one more step toward isolation,” said Aleksei Larin, 31, a construction engineer in Tula, 115 miles south of Moscow. “And since this is a Kremlin project, it is possible that it will lead to the introduction of censorship, which is something that certain officials have long sought.”
Besides startling Russian officials, the reaction has offered insights into the evolution of the Internet as it has spread from the West to the rest of the world. People in places like Russia have created a hybrid Web, typing domain and e-mail addresses in Latin letters and the content in native ones. However loyal they may be to the language of Dostoyevsky, many here do not want to embrace another system.
The most widely trafficked search engine in Russia, Yandex, estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the country’s Internet users would favor Cyrillic addresses in the near future. Livejournal, the busiest blogging platform in Russia, said it would not employ Cyrillic domains.
“I really do not see Cyrillic domains being popular,” said Dmitri N. Peskov, a prominent computer consultant who organizes Internet conferences in Russia. “People just do not see the point in having them.”
More than 30 million Russians use the Internet weekly, out of a population of 140 million, and the country’s growth in use is among the fastest in Europe, officials said. There are 2.5 million domains with the .ru suffix, with the address written in Latin letters.
The Cyrillic domains are likely to be activated next year. Russia is ahead in setting up its system, and its experience could be an indication of what is in store for other countries with non-Latin alphabets, like China, Japan and Egypt. Internet cultures, though, develop unpredictably, so the reaction elsewhere could be more positive.
The decision to allow non-Latin domains was approved in October by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, the supervisory body based in the United States. More than half of the world’s 1.6 billion Internet users speak a native language that does not have a Latin alphabet, Icann said.
Supporters of the change, including Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, who prides himself on his Internet knowledge, said the new domains would open the Internet to a whole class of people who are unfamiliar with Latin characters or are intimidated by them.
Andrei Kolesnikov, director of the agency that coordinates Cyrillic domains, said he was at first skeptical that they were needed. But he said he had turned into a strong proponent, pointing out that Internet penetration in Russia was confined largely to big cities, and Cyrillic domains would help it grow in the provinces.
“For many people, the Cyrillic domains work much better than Latin names,” Mr. Kolesnikov said. “The professionals, they don’t get it, they don’t understand the whole power of this, but they will get it.”
Mr. Kolesnikov said fears of censorship of Cyrillic domains were unfounded and based on a misunderstanding. He said Internet filtering and fire walls, like those enforced by the Chinese government, had nothing to do with domains.
If the Russian government wanted to, it could censor .ru domains, he said. But it has not, he said, and will not do so with the new ones. “This has no relationship to filtering or huge K.G.B. walls,” Mr. Kolesnikov said.
The .ru suffix will remain when Russia rolls out its Cyrillic suffix, .рф, which stands for Russian Federation.
But holders of .ru Web sites will have to decide whether to establish companion sites with Cyrillic addresses and the Cyrillic suffix. Many may not be enthusiastic.
In late November, Mr. Kolesnikov’s agency opened up registration to companies with Russian trademarks that wanted to use them as Cyrillic Web addresses. Of about 50,000 trademarks that were available, only about 4,000 had been registered as addresses so far.
“The new system will be very inconvenient,” said Aleksandr Malis, president of Evroset, one of the largest cellphone and electronics retailers in Russia, which has not applied for a Cyrillic domain. “It will not give us any more clients because I do not see a way to get people to use these new Web sites.”
Some companies said they would acquire Cyrillic domains mostly to protect themselves from so-called cybersquatters who might otherwise take over the domains and harm their businesses. Others worried about viruses or scams.
“This is a major headache for Russian companies,” said Aleksandr Gostev, an executive in Moscow at Kaspersky Lab, an Internet security company. “It is a wide new field for fraudsters.”
The authorities countered that they did not believe that the domains would touch off more crime.
Still, the early process of registering Cyrillic domains has been rocky. It was temporarily halted after a dispute over domains with generic names, like the Russian words for sports and sex. A company had registered several of those words as trademarks in anticipation of the new system, and officials ruled that the company was entitled to them because it had followed the rules.
Individuals and businesses without trademarks will be able to register Cyrillic addresses next year. The question now is how many will want to.
“Cyrillic domains are a major mistake because Latin symbols are the only symbols available on keyboards all over the world,” said Ilya V. Ponomarev, an opposition member in Russia’s Parliament who is a leading voice on technology. “And there is a real concern that non-Latin domains are going to help governments that are not fully democratic, including the one in Russia, to better control their information space.”