- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

MOSCOW (AP) — The Soviet Union may be in the dustbin of history, but there’s one place the socialist utopia lives on: cyberspace.

Sixteen years after the superpower’s collapse, Web sites ending in the Soviet “.su” domain name have been rising — registrations increased 45 percent this year alone. Bloggers, entrepreneurs and die-hard communists are all part of a small but growing online community resisting repeated efforts to extinguish the online Soviet outpost.

Russian nostalgia for the Soviet empire is part of the story. Nashi, or “Ours,” is a pro-Kremlin youth group that gained notoriety for raucous protests against Kremlin critics. The group praises President Vladimir Putin at nashi.su but denies its choice of the “.su” domain was meant to send a political message.

Many Web entrepreneurs also see potential profits in the domain, grabbing instantly recognizable names already claimed in other, better-known domains.

A small Moscow car repair shop that specializes in Ford vehicles boasts a home page at ford.su, and the owner of apple.su is a Muscovite who said he is ready to swap it for a new laptop computer — and not necessarily a Mac from Apple Inc.

Vladimir Khramov, a network administrator from Moscow, said he bought microsoft.su last year simply to acquire an easy-to-remember ending for his e-mail address.

While Mr. Khramov insists that he “did not buy it for reselling,” others are out to make a quick ruble. Yan Balayan registered a number of high-profile addresses, including ussr.su, stalin.su and kgb.su — he’s asking for $30,000 each, but stands ready to haggle.

With few exceptions — namely, the tech-savvy Baltic state of Estonia — Internet penetration is relatively low in the former Soviet republics. Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation says that only 27 percent of Russian adults use the Internet but only about 12 percent of the adults on any given day.

Yet many Internet entrepreneurs are passionate about the “.su” domain, even as others are scornful of it as a relic of the past, saying it doesn’t deserve the same status as “.ru” for Russia, “.uk” for the United Kingdom or “.fr” for France.

“They are selling tickets to a drowning ship,” said Anton Nosik, a veteran Web journalist and founder of several successful online projects. “Their message is to losers and latecomers.”

What’s next? Domain names for the Roman Empire or Ancient Greece?

Country-code domains, derived from a list kept by the International Organization for Standardization, typically disappear when a country ceases to exist or changes its name. Both Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia lost their domain names after they broke up into smaller nations. So did Zaire after it became the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Internet’s oversight agency, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and its predecessors have made efforts since the 1990s to eliminate the “.su” address.

All have failed.

In late 2006, ICANN even sought advice from the community on how best to revoke outdated suffixes. Yet the resistance continued, and the phase-out seems to be in a stalemate. The domain continues to work normally but is listed in records as “being phased out.”

“There are no technical issues,” said John Crain, ICANN’s chief technical officer. “It all comes down to politics.”

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