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This question is inspired by someone's comment on this question elsewhere

In the modern era of Internet and encryption it's quite surprising that countries like Russia still regularly use coded radio systems (Mazielka/Perelivt) to communicate with their embassies

One reason to do that might be to avoid the risk of the host country disconnecting the Internet link to the embassy, though it's easily mitigated by using a satellite-based connection.

One could also imagine that radio transmissions might be slightly harder to intercept, because all Internet traffic flows through a limited number of intermediate nodes, where interception is relatively easy to implement. This, too, can be mitigated by using satellite links instead of land links that cross the origin country boundaries.

What are the actual advantages of RF communications, in the particular scenario of a country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicating with its diplomatic posts in other countries, where alternative Internet-based channels already exist?

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    "where alternative Internet-based channels already exist?" - how reliable are these channels? Who controls these channels (and thus could disrupt it)? How easy and fast is it to repair these channels once disrupted? Commented Jan 17 at 21:00
  • Let's assume they are as reliable as shortwave transmitters and receivers, and as easy (hard) to disrupt.
    – mustaccio
    Commented Jan 17 at 21:07
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    I doubt that this assumption is true. Shortwave RF are easy and cheap to setup, even with batteries. No satellite infrastructure and no landline cables are needed. Cables can be cut, satellites can be harmed. Replacing any of these is hard, takes time and might be out of control of the embassy. Commented Jan 17 at 21:27
  • Shortwave reception can be disrupted as easily. It certainly makes sense to keep it as a backup, but why use it routinely?
    – mustaccio
    Commented Jan 17 at 21:39
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    "why use it routinely?" - to be sure that it actually works when needed, i.e. both the technique and the processes around it? Given the low bandwidth I doubt that it is the only communication channel they use. Commented Jan 18 at 3:30

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The question can be seen from different point of views.

  1. Is a radio channel required by a country to communicate with its embassies ?

    As many countries do not use it, the answer is probably not. The risk for the internet connections to an embassy to be willingly shut down by a major other country (a one with controls on satellite channels) is low outside a major military crisis

  2. Is maintaining radio channels a thing on a military point of view ?

    The answer is obviously yes. Militaries are reluctant to depend on technologies that they do not completely control or have not enough backups. Satellite channels do a really good job, but geostationnary links can drop by bad meteorological conditions (parabolic antennas do not like snow), and low level constellations are controlled by very few countries. On the other hand, radio communications can be used directly from the ground with relatively low cost equipements. It means that if a network relay drops, setting up a backup is not a major problem, which is quite different for satellites.

I honestly think that this latter point is a key here. Russia has a strong military history and since the second world war and the cold war has few allies outside its close neighbours. For that reason it is no surprise that they want to maintain a communication network that they can fully control. As soon as they see it as required, it is also no surprise that they decide to use it on a regular basis. First because it is the only foolproof way to be sure that everything is on at any moment, and second because using something only when things go wrong would be a signal for the ennemy countries.

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    Using Radio channels is common in embassies. Go outside and look at and you will see the antennas. Also, they can communicate with the embassy through the encrypted radio channel. In an ally country or not, this is a common practice.
    – kelalaka
    Commented Jan 28 at 13:42
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What are the actual advantages of RF communications, in the particular scenario of a country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicating with its diplomatic posts in other countries, where alternative Internet-based channels already exist?

If you are familiar with the OSI stack you know RF, or fiber, or coaxial cables are different implementations of Layer 1 functionalities. In other words, the physical layer.

Upper layers such as Ethernet, IP, or TCP may be implemented on various communication media. Therefore, you could certainly use standard Internet protocols to communicate over a dedicated RF channel that is not provided by your average ISP.

There are many reasons why this could be useful:

  • any disruption of your regular Internet access does not necessarily impact your RF link. A backhoe may accidentally (...or not accidentally?) cut your fiber link. It is true that your building may be connected by two or more fiber links, which may be provided by different ISPs. This is how modern datacenters are built. However, ensuring that the two fiber links always take different paths is not trivial, especially (but not only) in the "last mile". While embassies are heavily protected inside, they fundamentally live in (potentially) hostile territory almost by definition, so you cannot ensure that, only half a mile away from your post, someone will not cut your fiber links.

  • likewise, intercepting the signal requires actually being in the right path (or bugging the embassy antennas...), and antennas can be very directional. This doesn't mean it cannot be done, but it probably takes more effort than simply tapping a fiber cable (at least if you are the host country for that embassy, or one of the countries on the path from the embassy to the MFA).

The main limitation, as I see it, is the fact that you need some kind of additional equipment you may not need otherwise. You need a (satellite?) antenna and an RF modem, in addition to your average switches and routers.

This is probably not a major issue if you have a known, heavily guarded building and a lot of money, but it would be complicated if you had a covert building.

After all, you have to put your antennas somewhere outside your building (or on a balcony), and someone may eventually notice that your average apartment is, in fact, not that average, if it has an antenna which works at the right frequencies and is pointing at a Russian military satellite...

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  • The system(s) in question does not just provide alternative transports; they use entirely different protocols, namely coded audio transmissions, so they can't replace the usual internet links, only supplement them in some ways (ways which I'm trying to understand). They are directed at well-known outposts, so secrecy of the bare transmission/receipt fact is not a factor either.
    – mustaccio
    Commented Jan 28 at 18:56
  • @mustaccio computer signals are also coded audio transmissions, btw Commented Mar 6 at 18:26

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