Russia’s largest telecom provider, government-owned Rostelekom, has launched a new government-backed internet search engine today — sputnik.ru. According to the provider’s press service, Sputnik, which currently exists in a trial “beta” version, will “focus on socially important internet services relevant to the development of an information society in Russia”. Primarily aimed at Russian families who use the internet for everyday tasks, the service will provide specialised search facilities, with visitors to the site able to find information on questions from where to buy a specific medicine to how to enroll children in kindergarten. Vice president of Rostelekom, Alexei Basov, said: “Sputnik is not a mere search engine, it’s a platform, founded on search technologies, with a plethora of socially oriented services and widgets, including those for interconnection with state bodies.”
The launch of Sputnik comes after a wave of restrictions imposed on the media in Russia in recent weeks, with a number of independent news channels restructured or shut down — the result, many have argued, of growing government interference in the media. Allaying concerns that the creation of a government-run search engine will provide the government with more ammunition to censor information in Russia, the announcement of the new service was accompanied by a statement saying that the website will not filter undesirable content, instead providing only basic protection for users against viruses and illegal content such as pornography. The new search engine is named after the pioneering Soviet space program, Sputnik, which put the Soviet Union temporarily ahead its international rival the US during the Cold War-era Space Race.
Sputnik is being positioned as a major competitor to technology company Yandex and search engine and advertising giant Google. The launch of the website was chosen to coincide with the start of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum today.