Lumen ends service to Russia, increasing isolation

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Lumen, a leading US Internet service provider for Russia, announced Tuesday that it is cutting business ties in the country, a move likely to increase Russia’s isolation as its citizens fall behind what some analysts are calling a new digital Iron Curtain.

Lumen became the second top The US-based airline has made such a move in recent days, following Friday’s announcement by Cogent Communications. Taken together, these steps are likely to make it more difficult for Russians to access international services, such as news sites and social media in the West, telecommunications experts say. Access to internal networks within Russia would not be affected.

US technology and telecommunications companies have shut down their services in Russia since it invaded Ukraine last month. During the same period, the Russian government has curbed or blocked popular US services such as Twitter and Facebook, while imposing new criminal penalties for reporting that does not comply with the Kremlin’s strict censorship policies. Many leading Western news organizations have ceased operations there, further weakening the flow of information out of the country, which is ravaged by punitive international sanctions.

A new iron curtain descends on the Russian internet

Lumen said in a statement on his website: “We have decided to disconnect the network due to an increased security risk in Russia. We have not experienced any network outages yet, but given the increasingly uncertain environment and the increased risk of government actions, we have taken to ensure the security of our and our customers’ networks, as well as the continued integrity of the global internet.”

The company tried to downplay its importance to the Russian market, saying: “The business services we provide are extremely small and very limited, as is our physical presence. However, we are taking steps to immediately stop operations in the region. .”

But telecommunications analysts said it is one of Russia’s most important sources of international data. The company’s customers include some of Russia’s largest corporate Internet providers and customers based there, including state-owned telecommunications companies Rostelecom and TransTelekom.

With Cogent and Lumen leaving, the remaining main 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’re in uncharted territory here,” said Doug Madory, director of Internet analytics at Kentik. “This is going to add up. That would be noticeable, I think.”

Ukrainian officials have called on companies and institutions to isolate Russia from the online world, going as far as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit that oversees key elements of the operation of internet, to suspend the country domain “.ru” from Russia.

ICANN turned down that request, but a growing number of US-based companies are cutting off Russian customers in ways that threaten to undermine long-standing ties with the West. Apple, Microsoft and others have stopped sales there.

Amazon also decided on Tuesday to limit its cloud services within the region, saying it would stop accepting new Amazon Web Services customers in Russia and Belarus, which Russian forces have provided storage areas for attacks on Ukraine.

The company, which operates the largest cloud computing company in the world, said it does not do business with the Russian government and has no data centers in the country. It does have some customers in Russia that use AWS, Amazon said, but the largest are “companies that are headquartered outside the country and have some development teams there.”

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Russia’s own government, meanwhile, has also reduced access to the West through a growing number of blockages on popular internet services. While some Russians use technological tools, such as VPNs, to get around such restrictions, many observers warn that the nation risks becoming increasingly cut off from the outside world, as it was in Soviet times.

The result, many critics warn, will make Russians more dependent than ever on government propaganda that dominates all of the country’s newspapers and broadcasters, leaving few ways to access independent news sources at a time when the country is in a state of flux. serious political crisis.

“Disconnecting Russia from the global internet means leaving the Russian people behind only state propaganda telling them that the Ukrainian people are their enemies. This will silence the anti-war voices and it will hurt Ukraine,” said Natalia Krapiva, digital rights lawyer at the internet freedom group Access Now.

Rachel Lerman contributed to this report.

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