Ukraine’s Plea to Unplug Russia From the Internet Is Denied

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VK data processing center in Moscow - Credit: Gavriil Grigorov/TASS/Getty Images
VK data processing center in Moscow - Credit: Gavriil Grigorov/TASS/Getty Images

Following Ukraine’s request to essentially disconnect Russian websites from the internet, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has responded explaining why they’re both unable and unwilling to take such unprecedented action.

In a letter obtained by Rolling Stone from ICANN CEO Göran Marby to Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, Marby acknowledged “the terrible toll being exacted against your country” by Russia, but explained why ICANN has denied the request.

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“You have asked that ICANN target Russia’s access to the Internet by revoking specific countrycode top-level domains operated from within Russia, arranging the revocation of SSL certificates issued within those domains, and shutting down a subset of root servers located in Russia,” Marby wrote. “In our role as the technical coordinator of unique identifiers for the Internet, we take actions to ensure that the workings of the Internet are not politicized, and we have no sanction-levying authority. Essentially, ICANN has been built to ensure that the Internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working.”

Among Ukraine’s requests was that ICANN — a California-based nonprofit responsible for protecting “the operational stability of the internet” via the management of the global Domain Name System (DNS) root zone — shut down Russia’s primary DNS servers as well as the country-specific domains bearing Russia’s .ru. In denying the latter request, ICANN warned, “Such a change in the process would have devastating and permanent effects on the trust and utility of this global system.”

Other site-specific aspects of Ukraine’s request, Marby wrote, were out of ICANN’s jurisdiction. “We do not have the ability to revoke the specific SSL certificates for the domains you mentioned,” Marby said. “These certificates are produced by third-party operators and ICANN is not involved in their issuance.”

“Within our mission, we maintain neutrality and act in support of the global Internet. Our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the Internet — regardless of the provocations. ICANN applies its policies consistently and in alignment with documented processes. To make unilateral changes would erode trust in the multistakeholder model and the policies designed to sustain global Internet interoperability,” Marby continued. “ICANN stands ready to continue to support Ukrainian and global Internet security, stability, and resiliency.”

Following Ukraine’s email to ICANN, Justin Sherman of Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative told Rolling Stone that ICANN would likely reject the request, adding that maintaining free and open access to the internet within Russia is one of the strongest defense strategies against the country’s propaganda machine.

“ICANN taking action against Russian domains would undermine the ability of everyday Russian internet users to get access to information about the Ukraine conflict,” Sherman said. “It’s vital for individuals to spread information within Russia about the Kremlin’s actions, for social media platforms to cut off Russian state propaganda themselves, and for organizations like ICANN to not set dangerous precedents like revoking entire domains for a country.”

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