US technology and telecom companies have cut services in Russia since it invaded Ukraine last month. In the same period, the Russian government has stifled or banned popular US services such as Twitter and Facebook while imposing new criminal penalties for news coverage that does not follow the Kremlin’s strict censorship policies. Several leading Western news organizations have suspended their work there, further weakening the flow of information from the country that is hampered by international sanctions.
In a statement posted on his website, Lumen said, “We have decided to disconnect the network due to the increased security risks within Russia. We have not yet encountered network disruptions, but due to the increasingly opaque environment and the increased risk of state action, we have taken this step to ensure the security of our networks and those of our clients, as well as The continued safety of the global internet.”
The company tried to downplay its importance to the Russian market, saying: “The business services we provide are very small and very limited as our physical presence. However, we are taking steps to stop business in the area immediately.”
But telecom analysts said it is one of the most important sources of data from international sources for Russia. The company’s clients include some of Russia’s largest Internet providers for businesses and customers located there, including the country’s state-owned telecom operators Rostelecom and TransTelekom.
With Cogent and Lumen leaving, the main remaining sources of international data are Western companies based in Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom, according to an analysis by internet monitoring firm Kentik.
“We are in uncharted territory here,” said Doug Madhuri, director of internet analysis at Kentik. “This will add up. It will be noticeable, I think.”
Ukrainian officials have called on companies and organizations to isolate the Russian language from the Internet, even going so far as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based non-profit group that oversees key elements of the Internet’s work, to suspend Russia’s state domain “.ru”.
ICANN denied this request, but a growing number of US-based companies are cutting off Russian clients in ways that threaten to undermine long-standing relations with the West. Apple, Microsoft, and others have halted sales there.
Amazon also moved to limit its cloud services within the region on Tuesday, saying it would stop accepting new Amazon Web Services customers in Russia and Belarus, which have provided Russian military forces with staging areas to attack Ukraine.
The company, which runs the world’s largest cloud computing company, said it does not do business with the Russian government and does not have data centers inside the country. Amazon said it has some customers within Russia who use AWS, but the biggest are “companies that are headquartered outside the country and have some development teams there.”
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Meanwhile, the Russian government was also cutting off access to the West through an increasing number of blocks on popular Internet services. While some Russians use technological tools, such as VPNs, to evade such restrictions, many observers warn that the nation risks becoming increasingly isolated from the outside world, as it was during the Soviet era.
Many critics warn that the outcome will leave Russians more dependent than ever on government propaganda that already dominates the country’s newspapers and broadcast stations, leaving few ways to access independent news sources at a time when the country has entered a severe political crisis.
“Disconnecting Russia from the global internet means leaving the Russian people only with state propaganda telling them that the Ukrainian people are their enemy. It will silence anti-war voices and hurt Ukraine,” said Natalia Krapeva, a digital rights lawyer with the internet freedom group Access Now.
Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.