Since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has forced Google to delist over 36k URLs that link to VPN services according to new research from Surfshark.
During the first week of the invasion, there was only a slight increase of seven percent when it came to requests aimed at delisiting URLs related to VPNs. These requests themselves came under Russian federal law 276-FZ which is commonly referred to as the “VPN Law”.
However, things took a turn for the worse during the second week of the invasion when the Russian government announced the blocking of various Western social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter while others left due to a “fake news” law. At that time, URL delisting requests surged by 55 percent.
In addition to preventing its citizens from accessing VPN services and even URLs related to them, Russia also blocked hundreds of domains from global news outlets like the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Ukrayinska Pravda that covered its invasion of Ukraine since the conflict began on February 24 of this year.
Surge in VPN sales
While Western governments and businesses placed sanctions on Russia and announced that they would no longer sell their products or allow the country’s citizens to use their services, there was a huge surge in VPN downloads by Russian citizens.
In fact, according to Surfshark’s internal data, the VPN provider saw a 3,500 percent increase in sales compared to before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Head of PR at Surfshark, Gabriele Racaityte provided further details in a press release, saying:
“A rapid surge in downloads means that people living in Russia are actively looking for ways to avoid government surveillance and censorship, be it accessing blocked websites or social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. As the number of shut-down websites grows every day, VPN services act as a window to reach unbiased information and untracked communication channels”
The last time Surfshark registered a similar surge in downloads was back in May of 2020 when China passed the Hong Kong Security Law. As Hong Kong residents grew increasingly concerned about being trapped behind China’s Great Firewall, the company saw VPN downloads increase by 700 percent.
Even if Russia decides to call off its invasion of Ukraine today, the Kremlin will likely continue to block access to the open internet and Western media which means that VPN services will remain the only way for Russian citizens to access unbiased information and communicate with the rest of the world.