The Russian Debate online
The Russian segment of the Internet, usually referred to as "RuNet" in Russia, has been growing rapidly since its inception in April 1994 (the official "birth date" refers to the registration of the domain .ru assigned to Russia, replacing the older domain extension .su for the Soviet Union).
While television remains the most popular means of mass communications in Russia, the number of internet users has been growing at a fast rate, particularly in large urbanized areas. According to research by the Public Opinion Foundation, in 2008 the internet audience in Russia reached 30 percent of the adult population (and significantly more in large cities – in Moscow 58 percent of adults use the internet).
Depending on the age category, 93 to 98 percent of internet users read news online; roughly 50 percent create their own online content. Social networks have also enjoyed a spectacular start in Russia, with Russian analogues of Facebook – Vkontakte.ru and Odnoklassniki.ru – consistently ranking among the most visited websites.
The plethora of online media outlets and news portals provides a much wider range of information than television and print media, most of which rarely include views that are substantially different from the official line. The highest-ranking news portals include Newsru.com (formerly the website of NTV channel, still independent at the time of the launch), Lenta.ru, Pravda.ru, vz.ru, and dni.ru, with leading outlets boasting an audience of 180,000-220,000 unique visitors per day. Another popular trend involves print media launching their own websites.
It is also important to emphasize the political role of the internet in Russia, given that there is generally no system of online censorship in the country. Notably, Russia has an active blogosphere, with the LiveJournal community being the most established and the most active. It is widely believed that the Russian blogosphere is becoming an increasingly popular platform for political debate. This may be explained by the paucity of opportunities for full-fledged debate in the traditional media (TV and print). A number of experts, analysts, journalists, and even President Medvedev run their own blogs where they invite comments and engage in discussions with their readers.
Russian internet users are largely free to access various online information sources, including foreign ones (although the low level of foreign language skills among the general population presents a serious obstacle to obtaining information from non-Russian sources).
There are two main websites that provide translations of foreign (mostly Western) news stories – Inosmi.ru, run by the government-owned RIA Novosti news agency, and Inopressa.ru, affiliated with Newsru.com. Inosmi.ru has been frequently criticized for focusing on foreign articles which include particularly negative views of Russia.
Finally, there are several media outlets and online platforms that have come to be associated with dissident political views. These include Garry Kasparov's website Kasparov.ru, the news portal Grani.ru (formerly owned by oligarch Boris Berezovsky), and the websites of Ezhednevnyy Zhurnal and Novaya Gazeta.
In addition, the Caucasian Knot, available in Russian and English, is a dedicated news outlet and one of the most comprehensive, continuously updated online sources on the Caucasus region. Launched in 2001 by the human rights NGO Memorial, the Caucasian Knot retains a strong human rights focus and, in addition to regular news, provides detailed coverage of refugee issues, persecution of journalists, abuse of state power, and so forth. While the bulk of the Caucasian Knot's reporting covers the North Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation, there are also dedicated sections on the three states of the South Caucasus.
 Russian Public Opinion Foundation, cited in IREX, Media Sustainability Index, Chapter "Russia," p. 190.
 Viktor Agayev, "Blogosphere As a Way to Avoid Censorship in Russia" (in Russian), Deutsche Welle, 5 June 2009.