Russian lawmakers aren’t ruling out banning Zoom in Russia if the company prohibits access to its service to Russian government agencies and state companies, Alexander Bashkin, a member of the Russian Federation Council’s committee on constitutional legislation, has told Sputnik.

“Russia does not support sanctions measures, but if such a decision with respect to government agencies and state-owned companies is made, it’s possible to block this service on the territory of our country as a reciprocal, symmetrical measure,” Bashkin explained.

The senator expressed hope that Zoom would not follow through with the reported restrictive measures, saying that while private companies have the right to establish rules on who to sell to, Russia, “like any state in which this company operates, can establish its own protectionist measures in response to such whims.”

Bashkin added that the situation surrounding Zoom suggests that Russia needs to develop its own platforms, services and network infrastructure so that “no one will be able to blackmail our country with the prospect of being disconnected from the service,” and said that efforts in this direction have already been made.

For his part, Education Minister Sergei Kravtsov told reporters Wednesday that Russian schools will be able to use a Russian-made videoconferencing system known as Spherum to replace Zoom, which is already operational.

Developed in coordination between Mail.ru Group and Rostelecom, Russia’s leading telephony provider, Spherum was launched in late March, having been tested in over 1,000 schools across 15 Russian regions. The service allows for group video conferencing for up to 100 participants, and is accessible from any device, with users also able to share videos, photos, presentations and other school materials.

© Photo : Spherum
Screenshot of home page of Spherum, a new Russian-developed video conferencing application.

Irina Abankina, director of the department of educational programmes at the Higher School of Economics, confirmed to Russian media that the school is rushing to switch to alternative systems, but said she doesn’t fully understand Zoom’s actions, since its use by Russian educational institutions was profitable for the company. She said the university plans to switch to Microsoft Teams. Kirill Zakharyin, head of the information technology department at Siberian Federal University, said the institution has twenty corporate Zoom accounts which should remain valid through July. After that, he said, the university will need to find alternatives.

Russian business media reported late Tuesday that Zoom Video Communications had banned its Russian distributors from selling access to the service to government agencies and companies in which the Russian state is a shareholder. Sources said they could not exclude the development of a separate product for the public sector. Zoom did not immediately respond to the reporting.

Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine measures introduced in schools and universities across many countries. Today, the application boasts as many as 300 million daily users, up from just 10 million in 2019. The software has been criticized for data security issues, including the transfer of user data to Facebook, leaks of videos and personal contact information, and other problems.

In Russia, Zoom is estimated to have 25 percent of the videoconferencing market, with competitor Skype enjoying 14 percent market share.