Russian Cyber sanctions- The Digital Age Boycott

Russian Cyber sanctions- The Digital Age Boycott

Russian Cyber sanctions- The Digital Age Boycott

The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken the whole world by storm. It has further weakened the structure of the global order. This belligerence from Russia has left the world flabbergasted and enraged, warranting radical countermeasures such as imposing embargoes on Russian trade to prominent brands retracting from Russian markets. The impact of this ‘Cancel Russia Drive’ has also caused the Ukrainian government to demand ICANN a complete revocation of Russian TLDs (Top Level Domain), namely .рф, .su and .ru along with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates of the nation.

This radical demand was fueled by Russia’s invasion, which breached several clauses of international treaties and laws. An invasion is an act of aggression and blatant violation of Article 2, 4 of the UN Charter 1945, prohibiting the “use of force against any state’s territorial integrity or political independence.” Additionally, Russian weapons targeting civilian infrastructure and commercial establishments like residential buildings, hospitals, schools, airports etc., are prohibited by Article 51(3) of Additional Protocol 1 and Article 13(3) of Additional 2 to the Geneva Conventions. These heinous crimes resulted from Russian Propaganda machinery utilizing websites constantly disseminating disinformation, cyber-radicalization, violence, and hate speech, thus promoting anti-Ukraine sentiments. Moreover, numerous attempts to sabotage Ukrainian IT infrastructure by impeding Russian citizens pose a severe threat to Ukrainian cyberspace. These sanctions on the internet were intended to limit Russian war strategies and safeguard the lives of Ukrainian citizens.

Denying the request made by Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov ICANN’s president and CEO Goran Marby stated the policies do not allow ICANN to take any action to disconnect the said domains. ICANN is an independent technical organization that manages the unique identifiers of the internet and facilitates security, resilience, and stability of the identifiers with the goal of a global and interoperable internet. The organization’s work is not politically driven and is devoid of any sanction levying authority.

The internet is primarily decentralized, and no one can control it. ICANN exists to maintain neutrality and support the global internet; any unilateral or drastic change can cause severe fluctuations in global cyberinfrastructure and could erode existing models and policies sustaining the internet’s interoperability. Such an unprecedented change would obliterate the trust of the worldwide system. Furthermore, from an international law perspective, the internet has been declared a human right; hence denying the internet to Russian citizens amounts to a violation of human rights. Punishing civilians for actions of its government is entirely unjust.

This request from Ukraine could also lead to ‘Splinternet,’ i.e., division of cyberspace and technical boundaries rendering the internet divided into digital islands. This cyber fragmentation could lead to catastrophic consequences. Firewalling Russian cyberspace would allow them to isolate, resulting in western nations being clueless about Russian affairs. This isolation will also enable the government to spread the anti-western propaganda. Moreover, it is crucial to showcase the misery and gloom of war inflicted by them, which can be achieved via an open internet network, hence isolation of the internet for the Russians is a one way door and will cause issues as it solves them.

Moreover, this decision would eventually enable the Russian government to make the localized internet entirely controlled by them without any foreign intrusion, thus locking the Russian cyber ecosystem out of the world ecosystem like China and North Korea.


Author – Shrey Madaan – Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation

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