With the war between Russia and Ukraine, many were worried that the Russian invasion might include cutting off Ukraine’s internet access, either through cyber-attacks or by destroying infrastructure. Although there hasn’t been an internet blackout yet, apart from some temporary outages and attacks on government websites, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov took to Twitter to ask Elon Musk to intervene and the tech billionaire took action.
Musk has contributed with a truckload of Starlink satellite dishes and satellite internet service to help the Ukrainians. Still, it is not without risk: the reception can be traced by the Russians, which could make its users a target. Musk himself pointed this out in a tweet.
The gesture, while noble, raises questions about its necessity. It is not possible to simply disconnect a European country from the internet, given that there are several companies providing access via mobile internet or satellite services in addition to fiber optic cables. Furthermore, Ukraine has a well-developed cyber defense system, as the country has been subject to attacks from Russia targeting internet services for years.
The Ukrainian leadership has not only contacted the owner of Tesla but also asked Apple to block access to the App Store in Russia, Google and YouTube to stop providing a platform for Russian state media, and even sent a tweet to Mark Zuckerberg asking him to make Facebook and Instagram inaccessible. Given the Russian state’s reputation for gaining influence on the internet, these moves would be of strategic importance.
However, the requests were only partially met: for example, Apple stopped selling its products and using Apple Pay on the Russian market, YouTube blocked Russian state media channels across Europe, and Facebook and Instagram are restricting access to their platforms.