Very, Very Bad Ideas: Ukraine Asks ICANN To Disconnect Russia From The Internet

from the think-this-through-a-moment... dept

Much of the world is, correctly, standing up against Russia following its despicable invasion of Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin’s power-mad fever dream. And in response there are lots of questions about how different companies are looking to punish, sanction, or limit Russian access to goods and services. Some of the ideas make sense. Some of them don’t. And some of them are incredibly dangerous. In the extremely dangerous territory is Ukrainian officials reaching out to ICANN on Monday and asking it to disconnect Russia from the internet, revoking domains issued in Russia and shutting down DNS servers in Russia.

Moreover, it’s becoming clear that this aggression could spread much further around the globe as the Russian Federation puts the nuclear deterrent on “special alert” and threatens both Sweden and Finland with “military and political consequences” if these states join NATO. Such developments are unacceptable in the civilized, peaceful world, in the XXI century.

Therefore, I’m strongly asking you to introduce the following list of sanctions targeting Russian Federation’s access to the Internet:

Revoke, permanently or temporarily, the domains “.ru”, “.рф” and “.su”. This list is not exhaustive and may also include other domains issued in the Russian Federation.

Contribute to the revoking for SSL certificates for the abovementioned domains.

Shut down DNS root servers situated in the Russian Federation, namely:

Saint Petersburg, RU (IPv4

Moscow, RU (IPv4, 3 instances)

Apart from these measures, I will be sending a separate request to RIPE NCC asking to withdraw the right to use all IPv4 and IPv6 addresses by all Russian members of RIPE NCC (LIRs – Local Internet Registries), and to block the DNS root servers that it is operating.

All of these measures will help users seek for reliable information in alternative domain zones, preventing propaganda and disinformation. Leaders, governments and organizations all over the world are in favor of introducing sanctions towards the Russian Federation since they aim at putting the aggression towards Ukraine and other countries to an end. I ask you kindly to seriously consider such measures and implement them as quickly as possible. Help to save the lives of people in our country.

It is difficult to describe just how bad an idea this is. First of all, this is kind of what Russia already wants. It’s already looking to cut itself off from the wider internet in order to keep its own citizenry misinformed. Second, this punishes the Russian people, many of whom are against the war. Third, the internet remains the best way for activists on the ground in Russia to organize and to evade crackdowns by the Russian government. Fourth, the internet remains one of the most important ways that people outside of Russia are getting information on what is happening in the country.

Thankfully, it appears that almost everyone realizes exactly why this is a terrible, terrible idea.

“This is a huge request from Ukraine,” says Justin Sherman, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative. “It’s very likely ICANN will just say no. The Kremlin is spreading tons of propaganda and disinformation about Ukraine, but this is not the way to go about addressing it.”

The RIPE Network Coordination Centre, which (as noted above) received its own such request has similarly rejected it and explained the many reasons why cutting off Russia from the internet is a dreadfully bad idea.

It is crucial that the RIPE NCC remains neutral and does not take positions with regard to domestic political disputes, international conflicts or war.

This guarantees equal treatment for all those responsible for providing Internet services. This is a fundamental reason why the RIPE NCC has been able to maintain its operations in the way it has for the past three decades. It also means that the information and data provided by the RIPE NCC can be trusted as authoritative and free from bias or political influence. Failure to adhere to this approach would jeopardise the very model that has been key to the development of the Internet in our service region.

Separately, the Internet Society has put out a statement explaining why undermining the internet at this moment is a dangerous idea.

These proposals miss something fundamental about the Internet: it was never designed to respect country borders. The idea of unplugging a country is as wrong when people want to do it to another country as it is when governments want to do it to their own.

Internet connectivity means anyone with access can use the Internet to communicate. This means aggressors and opponents alike. Unlike most historical communication methods, the Internet is astonishingly resilient when conditions for connection are bad. It’s not magic. It won’t end wars or invasions. But it is a great tool for humans to use against their oppressors.

The Internet allows people who otherwise would be silenced to speak, so it should be no surprise that there are people the world over trying to undermine the Internet.

Russia has been trying for over a decade, with limited evidence of success (whatever the Kremlin has said), to be able to unplug from the Internet. Some governments impose Internet shutdowns that harm the interests of their citizens and impede economic development, all in the interests of social control. These efforts are not “the Internet with local characteristics,” or any other catchphrase. They’re opposition to the Internet. The Internet puts decisions about connections into the hands of people who want to connect. It’s a frightening idea to those who want to control the messages. But it’s what has made the Internet a resource to enrich people’s lives.

Furthermore, it notes just how dangerous a precedent this would set:

Once large network operators start demonstrating an ability to make routing decisions on political grounds, other governments will notice. This will attract regulatory requirements to shape network interconnection in real time along political lines. If we travel that path, in short order the network of networks will not exist. In its place we would have a different network design built around national gateways, broken up on geopolitical lines, and just as dynamic and robust as other multilateral, regulation-based systems. The Internet has done a lot to erode those systems because it is more efficient and effective. We’d give that up.

Without the Internet, the rest of the world would not know of atrocities happening in other places. And without the Internet, ordinary citizens of many countries wouldn’t know what was being carried out in their name. Our best hope, however dim, is that those supporting an aggressive regime will change their support. More information can help, even as disinformation circulates. We need a better understanding of what is and is not disinformation. Cutting a whole population off the Internet will stop disinformation coming from that population—but it also stops the flow of truth.

We must not ease the path for those who hate the Internet and its ability to empower people. We must fight the suppression of the Internet. This means making sure connectivity does not stop for anyone. It means ensuring that strong encryption, which protects ordinary communications, but also allows political discourse in the face of censorship, is always available. It means making sure the critical properties of the Internet are not undermined by legislation, no matter how well-meaning. It means making interconnections cheap and easy and ubiquitous, so that all networks are reliable and robust systems that can be made from unreliable parts. It means dedicating ourselves to ensuring that the Internet is for everyone.

I can kind of understand the thinking behind the original request, but it’s important to recognize how such an idea would (1) dangerously backfire in the short-term, and (2) set an extraordinarily bad precedent for the future that would then be widely abused. There are plenty of reasonable actions to take against Russia. Cutting them off from the internet is not one and would play into Putin’s hands.

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Companies: icann, internet society, ripe

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Comments on “Very, Very Bad Ideas: Ukraine Asks ICANN To Disconnect Russia From The Internet”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Once you go about breaking the Web or disconnecting it for political reasons to certain areas or states or country’s you risk silencing the voice of minoritys, protestors or ordinary people also the Internet is used by business finance and retail . There is no major economy or business service that can exist without using the Web that’s why it should be avaidable in all country’s regardless of political viewpoint or who happens to be in power at any time
People in Russia and the Middle East use the Web to talk and to do business whether its good bad Liberal or Conservative.

Anonymous Coward says:


“First of all, this is kind of what Russia already wants. It’s already looking to cut itself off from the wider internet in order to keep its own citizenry misinformed.”

Doubt this proposed measure is something Russia wants. The officials in Ukraine apparantly does not think so Russia surely does not want its economy broken. If breaking Internet in Russia help breaks Russia’s economy, I say, go for it. As for misinformation, it may actually cut down misinformation if it does hurt Russia’s ability to spread misinformation through the Internet.I think that would be more important in an information war? The people in Russia should not be the only concern where it comes to misinformation and their hearts and souls is not only the battle to be fought over.

And this is not about combatting misinformation in Russia. Isn’t this about the economic war instead of the information war? It has cons I grant, but so what? What about the pros that could make the measure a worthwhile tradeoff? What is more important in this tradeoff?

“Second, this punishes the Russian people, many of whom are against the war.”

So? sanctions do same, what’s the difference. attack the economy, you hurt the people. Should we ask for the sanctions to stop because it hurt Russians? Even some Russians like Gary Kasparov support the sanctions. Of course, its unfortunate the Russians who don’t support the war may get hurt but this is WAR, what do you expect from war? In war, an economic one, or otherwise innocent people are going to get hurt anyways. should this stop us from fighting against Russian aggression? You can’t make omelets by not breaking eggs. The Russian people will live.
Poor them, oh right, cry me a river. It is not their cities being shelled right now. Ukrainians are dying right now! Have you forgotten about them? Are they not important as well? Who cares about the poor Russians not readily able to access resources on internet when we have innocent Ukrainian people literally BLEEDING on the streets, right now?

Many Russians may not support the war But are they really innocent? 77% of the Russian voters voted for Putin in 2018, according to Wikipedia. Where are their accountability? Where are their responsibilities? They voted for Putin even after he invaded Crimea and east Ukraine. dont they deserve the consequences that come with that? Let them lie in the bed they made with Putin.

Anyways, why make this about them instead of about the Ukrainian people?

“Third, the internet remains the best way for activists on the ground in Russia to organize and to evade crackdowns by the Russian government.”

This measure technically is not going to stop them from using the Internet for activism. There are many tools like Tor. It does not mean the end of Internet or networking in Russia.

And why make it about them? They are not the only concern. Again, we have Ukrainian people dying in the streets right now. What about them?

“Fourth, the internet remains one of the most important ways that people outside of Russia are getting information on what is happening in the country.”

Russia is not North Korea. Information there has ways of getting out onto the wider Internet. I dont see how this is going to be a big concern. We’ll still get intelligence we need even with this measure, no?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: I wish you had a heart.

its unfortunate the Russians who don’t support the war may get hurt but

Man, did you step into a huge but-hole.

I wish the governments of the world had a better way of stopping Putin without hurting the Russian people/potentially causing global thermonuclear war. The lack of that better way doesn’t lessen my sympathy for the Russians who are genuinely being hurt by economic sanctions. Yes, Ukraine is going through a lot worse. My sympathies go out to Ukranians worldwide. That doesn’t mean I can’t also feel bad for the Russians who didn’t want this war and are still being hurt anyway.

Ukranians are being driven from their homes and country; those who have stayed to fight are being injured and killed as they defend their country. Russians living in or near poverty are being hurt by a crumbling economy; those who have chosen to protest the war⁠—including young children⁠—are being arrested. Both sides of this fight are facing the kind of collateral damage that may take years or even decades to fix…if it can even be fixed.

In war, groups of poor people fight each other on behalf of rich people.

In war, there is always collateral damage.

In war, there are no winners.

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re: Re: Suffering of the Russian People...

Apart from the wisdom (or lack thereof) of disconnecting Russia from the world internet, my response to the suffering of the Russian people is that elections have consequences. Even more than the US’ dealing with the fallout of the Trump presidency, the consequences of electing Putin as President rightfully fall on the country as a whole.

Even allowing for the extent that Putin is now rigging the elections in his favor, once upon a time he had to win elections while dissent was still allowed. The time to depose him peacefully was back when he was starting to rig the electoral process in Russia.

In the US, we are fortunate to have (by a slim majority) recognized DT for the danger that he was and removed him from power before he could completely subvert our electoral process. Not for lack of effort on his part.

As far disconnecting RU from the internet goes, Ukraine’s request is excessive, but some selective geo-blocking of specific domain names in order to hamper Russian commerce could be effective without “breaking the internet”. OTOH, it would set a precedent that could be abused in the future. So a tough call either way.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

The time to depose him peacefully was back when he was starting to rig the electoral process in Russia.

Considering that he did effectively rig the electoral process in Russia, I don’t know how any attempt at peacefully deposing him would’ve worked. And that’s not getting into any other factors⁠—societal, financial, whatever⁠—that would’ve affected the populace’s desire to depose Putin. You’re coming awfully close to blaming average everyday Russians (including the ones who don’t support Putin) for the actions of an authoritarian asshole with seemingly nihilistic tendencies.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“If breaking Internet in Russia help breaks Russia’s economy, I say, go for it”

“Ukrainians are dying right now”

Erm, exactly what do you think the result of breaking the country’s economy will be? Everyone suddenly discovers puppies and rainbows and deliver a personal unicorn message to Putin to get him to stop what a lot of them are currently being arrested for protesting against? Or, people starving or being dragged to gulags for unpatriotic behaviour as they did in the Soviet days?

“Again, we have Ukrainian people dying in the streets right now. What about them?”

Are you incapable of thinking about more than one thing at the same time? Because I can assure you that the rest of us can care about the Ukrainian people, the Russian people who are against this and how best to stop Putin all at the same time.

“Russia is not North Korea. Information there has ways of getting out onto the wider Internet.”

Yes, which is why it’s being said that it’s a bad idea to change that sitation.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
TKnarr (profile) says:

Internet infrastructure like DNS should never be managed based on politics. The various platforms and organizations may or may not be completely neutral, but they should be non-political. Managing things based on politics is exactly what governments like Russia and China want, exactly what groups like the alt-right want, and I prefer an Internet that has no part of that.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

The Simpsons Did it ™

This has been discussed ad nauseum for decades. It’s just a nonstarter. Giving it credence by debating it pretends it has a point. It does not.

The US has the first amendment, and as Mike has said time and time again, we fight disinformation with MORE information, not with censorship. The same is true of the Russians’ use of the Internet.

Do I support hacking, cracking, fracking, malwaring, etc.? Of course not.

Do I support a free and open network of communication that allows all nations and people a right and freedom to peacefully assemble, speak, protest, and appeal? Yes, I do.

Russians – your government is run by bully a-holes. That’s your problem. Don’t make it mine.


Ninja says:

It’s terrifying and amusing how people seem to have a vital need to choose a side and then everything that could hurt the other side is on the table, population that seem to majorly disagree with the war on “the other side” be damned, their survival and well being be damned, collateral effects be damned. This is humans being humans right there and it has been beneficial evolution-wise for the better part of our existence but with all the complexity of current times it is now a trait that actively threatens the existence of the species (hello nuclear apocalypse!) and Darwin doesn’t have enough time or the natural drivers to root it out. We are screwed.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


I hate that countries have to pull out all these sanctions and such to effectively corner an aggressive authoritarian and shut down his dreams of imperialist dominion. I hate that those sanctions affect people ruled by, but don’t approve of the actions of, said authoritarian. That said: If you have a better idea of how to stop Putin that isn’t either economically crippling sanctions or the prelude to global thermonuclear war, feel free to share it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There probably isn’t one. Send actual troops there from outside of Ukraine and you’ll have a war between NATO and Russia. Stand by and do nothing, they’ll get trashed and you’re on the brink of it anyway. Nobody outside of government can do anything anyway, so private companies block off a portion of their market to show support for who they side with (and, sadly, as a marketing strategy to their much large bloc of supporters), and as with any war the people who suffer the most are the people who didn’t want the situation in the first place.

Ninja says:

Re: Re:

You misunderstand me. I never said what is being done is wrong or ineffective. There are some very harsh options that smarter leaders are avoiding because they cause a ton of collateral damage, do more harm than solve the problem they are supposed to solve. Think of a medicine that cures the disease but kills the patient. But I’m seeing far too many people supporting the administration of the killer medicine because the disease is “hte enemy” ™. Hopefully smarter minds, less clouded by pure hatred against “them” will prevail in this madness.

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