Can Web3 Save Russian Citizens from Propaganda?
How Russian citizens will be shut off from news sources once AWS / Google etc. leave
Western companies have launched incredibly effective sanctions against Russia in response to their war on Ukraine by pulling their goods and services. Similar measures are being enacted by tech giants like AWS and Google, who are removing access to Russian businesses in-line with sanctions on the country.
The removal of IT infrastructure and services could have unintended negative consequences on the people of Russia. Without Western IT, Russia will become more reliant on domestic companies more amenable to censorship and coercion from the Russian government interested in promoting an official narrative. Such a departure of tech companies could leave Russian citizens sitting in a walled-off dark room with no source of unbiased outside information. Let’s look at how bad the problem could get and if there’s a way to solve the issue through Web3.
With Western tech giants leaving Russia, who will take their place?
Cloud computing accounts for 5% of all domestic IT expenditure in Russia. Microsoft has the largest Russian cloud computing market share at 17%, followed by Amazon’s cloud unit at 14%, and IBM at 10%. All of these companies recently announced that they would either stop taking new Russian customers or stop operations there immediately in response to the war:
- Amazon Web Services blocks new sign-ups from Russia and Belarus
- Google Cloud to stop accepting new customers in Russia
- Microsoft suspends new sales in Russia
- IBM, joining tech companies like Oracle, VMware, and Salesforce, has ceased all operations in Russia
It’s understandable why IT infrastructure is a target for sanctions. Diverse banking, telecom and transportation businesses will be hampered if they can’t get software updates or have to replace their cloud infrastructure with a less reliable alternative. These IT sanctions would present a significant drag on the entire Russian economy. This sudden withdrawal of both Western tech infrastructure and software is believed to be long-lasting:
“Pretty much no one is expecting the sanctions to be lifted anytime [soon],” said Oleg Aksenov, a Moscow-based IT executive with 15 years of experience, including most recently as a division CTO at Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, and one of the leading members of a nonprofit group of Russian digital leaders. “Most everyone is just taking this as, this is a new reality. We are going to adapt to it. It’s going to be like the days of the Soviet Union,” he said.
Truth: an unintended casualty of war sanctions
These tech infrastructure sanctions would create a loss of internet infrastructure, making it even harder for Russian citizens to get uncensored news sources. Russian citizens’ ability to access reliable, truthful information is critical in countering the Kremlin’s propagandized version of the war it’s spreading to its citizens. If the Russian government could control the internet infrastructure, they could continue to shape the stories that affect Russian citizens’ thoughts and feelings about the war with Ukraine.
Consider that the company most likely to gain market share from the Western tech giants’ retreat from Russia is Yandex, which currently sits at 4th place in Russian cloud infrastructure market share. Yandex has already been charged with actively working with the Kremlin to limit information about the Ukraine war, making the Russian government look more favorable:
Citing accusations by a former head of Yandex’s news operation, Lev Gershenzon, the EU highlighted the role Yandex News plays in spreading Kremlin propaganda … Yandex’s former head of news accused the company of being a ‘key element in hiding information’ from Russians about the war in Ukraine.
There’s also been calls to remove Russian citizens’ access to Facebook from Ukrainian officials worried about the spread of propaganda on Western social networks. But Facebook has also been used as a tool for anti-war protestors to organize against war and share reporting that’s been censored by Russian state media.
A multitude of civil society groups cautioned President Joe Biden against cutting off Russia’s access to the internet:
“Overly broad restrictions on the access of the Russian people to the internet would further isolate the embattled pro-democracy and anti-war activists, and impede the ability of NGOs, human rights groups, journalists, and attorneys inside and outside Russia to provide critical information to citizens about the current state of affairs and their rights,” the groups wrote. “These actions would inadvertently speed up what the Kremlin has set out to achieve through its ‘sovereign internet’ tools — a complete and total control of information space inside Russia.”
How Web3 can make a difference
We’re in the beginning stages of the vacuum left by departing Western IT infrastructure, leaving Russia filled with censorable, Russian-domestic IT alternatives. This is a scenario where the TEA Project can come in and provide decentralized computing infrastructure that’s both uncensorable and distributed. The TEA Project uses its mining nodes to create an alternative IT infrastructure to AWS and Google Cloud. Citizens can fight the increasing closed-off nature of their internet and the ensuing propaganda by deploying TEA mining nodes that act as beacons that transmit uncensorable data and applications across an alternate network. Our first application, the TEA Party, is a social networking app that can be extremely useful in a time of war.
If you’d like to mine or find out more about the TEA Project, we’d welcome you to join our Telegram group: https://t.me/teaprojectorg