Internet sanctions against Russia pose risks, challenges for businesses

Sanctions on Russian attack for its attack on Ukraine and its response will change the way the internet is used, forcing companies to make hard decisions.

Whether we wish to admit it, the way the internet is used is in the midst of a major morph due to the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is moving to cut off internet access to Ukraine and to limit internet access to its own populace. Ukraine is seeking to limit Russia’s disinformation and ability to conduct commerce. Organizations continue to navigate their way through a world of sanctions and direct government requests to take specific actions

While the situation may appear to be black and white, it is, in reality, several shades of gray and is happening in the midst of the internet’s transition to multistakeholder governance. On March 10, 2022, the internet community issued a paper titled “Multistakeholder Imposition of Internet Sanctions.” This “conversation document,” signed by a plethora of individuals from companies and organizations, posited seven principles:

  1. Disconnecting the population of a country from the internet is viewed as a disproportionate and inappropriate sanction.
  2. Ineffective sanctions waste time; evaluation of the efficacy of sanctions must be made.
  3. Sanctions must be focused and precise with unintended consequences minimized.
  4. Military and propaganda agencies and their information infrastructure are potential targets of sanctions
  5. The internet does not lend itself to the imposition of sanctions in national conflicts.
  6. Challenges the appropriateness of governments to attempt to compel Internet governance mechanisms as a tool in the imposition of sanctions outside of the multistakeholder decision-making process
  7. There are appropriate, effective, and specific sanctions that the organization may wish to consider in its deliberative process

In the conversation document, recommendations were made, given the “moral imperatives that call us to action in defense of society.” The letter recommends discussion and formation of a multistakeholder mechanism that would publish sanctioned domains and IP addresses, to be “consumed by any organization that chooses to subscribe to the principles and their outcome.”

The document ends with a call for such deliberation to determine “whether the IP addresses and domain names of the Russian military and propaganda organs should be sanctioned, and to lay the groundwork for timely decisions of similar gravity and urgency in the future.”

Organizations deliberate response to Russia’s attack, governments impose sanctions

The governments of the UK and U.S. weren’t waiting for the aforementioned deliberation and issued sanctions on the Russian propaganda organs. The UK government slapped 12 organizations with sanctions for publishing “false and misleading” information originated by Russian intelligence. The sanctioned entities included, New Eastern Outlook, Oriental Review, and the infamous Internet Research Agency.

The U.S. noted it was escalating sanctions against the “network of Yevgeny Prigozhin,” which includes the aforementioned Internet Research Agency, his family, and a bevy of corporate entities. In addition, the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR, controls a number of outlets that Treasury has targeted in its sanctions list including the Strategic Culture Foundation and its outlets Odna, Rodyna, Rhythm of Eurasia, and the Journal of Kamerton. In addition, Svetlana Georgiyevna Zamlelova, chief editor of Kamerton, was individually sanctioned. The Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review were identified as being under SVR control and actively spreading disinformation. While the Russian military intelligence has its own disinformation outlets to which they invest and these include InfoRos, OOO and IA InfoRos. Closing out the trifecta of Russian intelligence entities active in the disinformation arena is the FSB (Federal State Security), whose Crimea-based NewsFront and the entity focused on elections SouthFront were included.

Companies try to thread the needle with Russia/Ukraine conflict

International pressure, both at the consumer level as well as the governmental level is being felt by companies large and small. As noted another CSO article, “The Ukraine/Russia information war is forcing companies to choose a side,” it can be expected to continue. However they respond, there may be both short- and long-term consequences. Ukraine’s government is making demands of companies such as Meta, Cloudflare and many others.

These companies are in the position of having to thread the delicate needle of limiting the professional offerings in Russia, but not turning out the lights. As an example, Cloudflare has landed on its corporate and business decision to remain active in Russia.

As its blog post of March 6 articulates, “We believe the shutting down Cloudflare’s service entirely in Russia would be a mistake,” so in the face of Ukraine directly asking that terminate their offering, they didn’t as they believe themselves to be “providing a more open, private and secure Internet.” In their defense, the same blog post claims curtailing its offering would “do little harm to the Russian government.”

The world interprets organizations’ actions regarding Russia

Their nuanced action did not keep them off the Yale University School of Management list of 37 companies that are “digging in” demands for exit or reduction of activities. It needs to be highlighted that this list is dynamic and lacks any of the nuances described above.

That said, 52 companies have been identified as still trying to figure out what they are going to do and have been placed in the “buying time” category, which includes having declared no new relationships within Russia.

It is fair to say that today’s decision is written on paper and not granite. As the geopolitical and moral situation changes, so too will many corporate positions. Indeed, as of the penning of this piece, a few of the 37 entities designated by Yale as “digging in” have announced they are adjusting their Russian instance.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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