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23 Ağu 2023

Irina Borogan,
Andrei Soldatov, CEPA

Russia’s tech companies face complicity risks over continued operations in aggressor state

Russia’s tech giants — A wartime choice of bad or worse, 23 August 2023

...Everyone retains the right to make choices. That is especially true for Russia’s tech giants, which have emerged over the last 30 years despite the rising authoritarianism and which competed, successfully, with their Western counterparts.  

Yandex, a Russian analog of Google, always had a controversial reputation. Its co-founder Arkady Volozh built a great corporation from scratch and while he didn’t use government funds, he often complied with the Kremlin’s requirements.  

Thus when pressured, he agreed to alter the Yandex search engine, excluding independent media from news search results. The European Union (EU) said in June 2022 that the company was responsible for “de-ranking and removing content critical of the Kremlin, such as Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.” Volozh met Putin on many occasions, but never challenged him.  

At the same time, Yandex has always been a company where young professionals could freely express their views even if they were at odds with the Kremlin. Hundreds of company employees went to anti-Putin rallies and were detained: but the company never acted against them.  

When the war started, Yandex let its programmers, who had fled the country, work remotely from abroad. It was clear that Putin was not going to tolerate such behavior and Volozh knew this. He resigned as Yandex CEO in June 2022, shortly after he was targeted by the EU sanctions referred to above...

Kaspersky Lab, a globally acclaimed Russian cyber security company (just before the war it became the world brand of the year in the anti-virus soft category) faced an even more difficult challenge when the all-out invasion started. 

Kaspersky Lab enjoyed a truly global presence, respected by cyber communities in Europe, the US, and everywhere in the world. And yet cyber companies are by default closely tied with security services. Kaspersky Lab is no exception – the company cooperated with the Russian counterintelligence agency, the FSB and Yevgeny Kaspersky himself had graduated from the KGB school. He also had a long record of supporting, in person, Russian government initiatives seeking to bring the Internet under state control...When the war started, it became much worse: Kaspersky experienced first-hand that in this kind of business, it’s very difficult to sit on the fence — one needs to choose a side.

Kaspersky chose to stay in Russia and that decision has had its benefits...

Kaspersky himself is trying to pretend he is not taking sides in this war or there is no war at all...Unlike Volozh, Kaspersky had made no public comment about the war. He didn’t support it, nor did he condemn it. Nor has Kaspersky been caught providing direct help to the Russian army fighting in Ukraine... 

The global human rights community worked hard to define ethical rules of what is acceptable and what is not to those companies working for the military-industrial complex and those providing surveillance technologies to repressive regimes.  

But there are no ethical rules for IT and cyber companies which continue to operate in the country with a repressive and aggressive regime.  

Kaspersky Lab is a good example of what might happen when the rules are non-existent. The company’s current focus is providing industrial cyber security solutions, including to government agencies. Roman Loginov, Kaspersky Lab’s head of government clients, was proud to admit in an August interview that since the war started (which he calls “the February events of the last year”) the company participated in several big investigations to help deal with cyber-attacks on government organizations... 

There is also a second front of confrontation with the Ukrainian military. Even before the invasion, Kaspersky Lab was developing anti-drone products: there is a fast-growing anti-drone department at the company.  Now, with Ukrainian drones attacking Russian cities, including Moscow, on an almost daily basis, it has a political dimension...

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