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No turning back: Russia activates Crimean cable

The Crimean peninsula depends critically on the Ukrainian mainland for infrastructure services: power, water, and Internet. That has begun to change in the last few days, as Crimean ISPs began receiving their first Internet services over the newly constructed Kerch Strait Cable, linking Crimea with the Russian mainland. The message: there is no turning back now in the process of infrastructure consolidation. kerch_strait
It’s a symbolic step that’s been months in the making. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the immediate construction of a new submarine cable across the Kerch Strait, one that would connect mainland Russia to the peninsula.

At Medvedev’s direction, Russian state-owned telecommunications company Rostelecom quickly constructed a submarine cable across the Kerch Strait at a cost of 400-900 million rubles (11-25 million US dollars). On April 25th, Rostelecom announced that the cable was completed.medvedev

But laying a short cable through shallow littoral waters is simple work, compared to the process of convincing Crimea’s ISPs to accept Internet service — any Internet service — from a Russian carrier. April passed, and then May, and June. We knew that when the cable finally entered service and began to pass traffic, it would cause a small storm on the Internet, as new Crimean routes through Moscow began to replace the more conventional Ukrainian paths in routers worldwide.

Finally, this week, some three months after the completion of the Kerch Strait Cable, the waiting ended. We observed the first Internet connections established across it to Crimean ISPs on July 24th.


What took so long? We can speculate.

On March 24th, Prime Minister Medvedev declared, “we cannot tolerate a situation in which sensitive information and documents related to the administration of the two constituent entities of the Russian Federation are relayed by foreign telecommunications companies. This must be terminated.” Referring to the Russian state-owned telecommunications company, Prime Minister Medvedev added, “it is necessary to ensure that Rostelecom and its subsidiaries come to Crimea as quickly as possible.” He also tweeted the sentiment to his 2.4 million followers.

Following this decree, Rostelecom quickly constructed a 46km submarine cable to stretch across the Kerch Strait connecting the Crimean peninsula to mainland Russia with a reported capacity of 110 Gbps. On April 25th, Rostelecom announced that the submarine cable had been completed and that it was operational. But landing the cable was just the first step in the process of establishing interprovider routes to cause traffic to flow as Moscow intended.

Miranda Media

In May, Rostelecom announced that its services in Crimea would be marketed under the retail name “Miranda Media”. Since that time, we had not observed any significant changes to the transit patterns of ISPs in Crimea — certainly no new service transited via the Russia state telecom. However, that all changed at 15:42:58 UTC on July 17th when we observed Rostelecom gain a customer that had never appeared in the global routing table before, Miranda-Media (AS201776). This company would effectively be Rostelecom’s local agent in Crimea, the sole source of Kerch Strait routes.

The following week, on July 24th, we observed AS201776 begin providing transit to parts of the Internet in Crimea. ISPs KCT (AS48004), which operates in Simferopol, and ACS-Group (AS42986), which is based in Alupka, became the first two providers to obtain at least part of their Internet service from Miranda Media. In the diagrams below, based on traceroute measurements into these networks, the new Miranda Media service appears in green.

48004-4 42896-2

And now, just in the last 48 hours, we observed two of Crimea’s largest ISPs activating the new Miranda Media (AS201776) service. Tuesday, CrimeaCom (AS28761), below left, and yesterday, CRELCOM (AS6789), below right, started using Miranda Media and transiting traffic via Russia. These are much larger local providers and their participation means a significant portion of Crimean Internet customers now enjoy direct domestic connectivity to Russia.

28761-3 6789-3

These developments aren’t worrisome, in and of themselves. The new Kerch Strait routes provide badly needed diversity to Crimean providers, who will have a distinct failover path should they lose their connectivity to the Ukrainian mainland. The new Miranda Media routes grant Crimean consumers faster access to Russian-language content hosted in Moscow, rather than having to send their requests through Kiev and west to Frankfurt before heading back east to Moscow. A recent poll showed that a majority of Crimeans had switched to Russian media.

The obvious question, however, is what happens next? Will Crimea voluntarily disconnect its remaining Internet services through the Ukrainian mainland, in an attempt to keep ‘domestic’ traffic domestic and avoid international surveillance? If that happens, the Kerch Strait becomes a single point of failure for all of Crimea’s Internet. The time it takes Crimeans to fetch popular content from Western Europe and the Americas would double … or even triple.

28761_kbp2 6789_kbp2

Above are latencies for measurements to AS28761 and AS6789 from Kiev. The latencies jump from around 20ms to over 60ms when traffic must pass through Moscow before returning to Crimea over the Kerch Strait. (Note: the latencies to AS6789 via MTS are around 60ms normally due to hair-pinning via Amsterdam)

Whether Crimea disconnects from Ukraine or not, Russia’s activation of the Kerch Strait cable is a quiet, almost invisible signal to the rest of the world that the infrastructure consolidation of Crimea is entering its final stages. This cable is the first step in a process that will include a massive new bridge (animation below), high-speed catamarans, perhaps a Chinese-financed tunnel to the Russian mainland, power lines to support the peninsula’s needs, and direct rail connection. Russia isn’t turning back.

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Doug Madory
Whois: Doug Madory

Doug Madory is a Director of Internet Analysis at Oracle Dyn where he works on Internet infrastructure analysis projects. Doug has a special interest in mapping the logical Internet to the physical lines that connect it together, with a focus on submarine cables.