[At-Large] Ukraine, .RU, and internet governance

Roberto Gaetano roberto_gaetano at hotmail.com
Mon Mar 14 08:27:52 UTC 2022

Hi all

Yesterday I was in a teleconference (we were aware of the document referenced below) and I expressed the opinion that our actions during the war have to be guided by how we imagine the world after the war. No matter how painful the decisions during the war might be, we must be able not to jeopardise the long term vision and the related strategy.

I also happen to know people in international organisations - or, better said, in organisations that operate based on international collaboration, not necessarily only according to international treaties. Many have similar problems. ESA, for instance, while delaying the start of new projects to a more favourable moment, has to deal with the already ongoing projects, that see collaboration of the “western” countries with Russia. What should they do? Kick off all the Russians, close all collaboration with Russia, including the currently operating Space Lab? And CERN, while excluding Russians from positions of power (which is a political decision not severely impacting current operations), should they kick out the 100+ scientist or make their life difficult demanding to break their ties with their mother country (incidentally, most of them have signed a document against the war - but this is, as some have argued on this list, “just words”)? These organisations, as many others, deal with the current situation not losing sight of the strategic objectives. Why should ICANN act differently and, instead, cede to the temptation of taking actions that, while possibly satisfying the impression of doing something in favour of Ukraine, do irreversible damage to the possibility of maintaining open channels of communication and keeping trust in an organization that stands by its basic principles also in dark moments?

I am aware that on this list we have a lot of good people that happen to have widely different ideas about how to deal with the situation - all positions that I respect, but this does not prevent me from considering some of them counterproductive.


On 14.03.2022, at 06:47, Hank Nussbacher via At-Large <at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org<mailto:at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org>> wrote:

On 13/03/2022 23:40, Karl Auerbach via At-Large wrote:

I would like to share a fascinating analysis I saw presented by someone named Alex on a different list.  He posted his analysis in response to:


"We believe it is now incumbent upon the Internet community to deliberate
and make decisions in the face of humanitarian crises. We may not
responsibly dismiss such crises without consideration, nor with
consideration only for the self-interest of our community?s own direct
constituents; instead, maturity of governance requires that self interests be
weighed in the balance with broader moral and societal considerations.
This document is the beginning of a global Internet governance conversation
about the appropriate scope of sanctions, the feasibility of sanctions
within the realm of our collective responsibility, and our moral imperative
to minimize detrimental consequences."

And here is what Alex stated "In less abstract terms, the framing of community measures as Internet governance basically does exactly what the Russians and Chinese have been worried about for years - and increases their play, especially towards the undecided, that the Internet overall needs to be taken away from those who inherited by "accidents of history" and given to the "adults" (government - specifically ITU) to manage. The timing is even more counterproductive for the community as it just looked like the Russian candidate for the head of the ITU (who wants to take over the IANA function) was going to lose to the US candidate. Now that might be more difficult, and the rocky road to to WSIS+20 even more perilous."

I checked and the candidates up for election in August are indeed an American vs Russian:

Now imagine Putin plays chess and decides to play the long game with his intention of taking control of the Internet via his rep as Secretary-General in the ITU.  He invades Ukraine knowing that the US and Western Europe response will be sanctions and cutting off different aspects of the Russian Internet.  He can now go to numerous countries that might have voted for Doreen and convince them to place their vote for Rashid Ismailov.

Hank Nussbacher

I am very much in agreement with your sentiments.

The community of internet related bodies seems be clutching at their pearls, trying to protect abstract notions of "neutrality" that may or not even exist in reality, while real people are suffering real injuries and real deaths.

It may well be that the tools available, such as an effort to slow (but not stop) .ru DNS lookups, may have limited impact.

However, limited impacts cumulate; Gulliver was tied down in Lilliput by many tiny threads, any one of which he could have easily broken but in combination proved the stronger.

The community of internet bodies seems, like Pygmalian, to have fallen so deeply in love with its creation that their sense of ethics and morality has been benumbed; they love the statue they have carved over the living people upon which it is modeled.


On 3/13/22 11:12 AM, Antony Van Couvering via At-Large wrote:
It’s appears that there is no appetite within this community to block .ru, or to do something substantive to help Ukraine in its hour of need, or even to say something about it. Finally, something that unites a normally fractious group.

I would challenge people to come up with something else that would hurt Putin’s regime and/or help Ukraine, or at the very least advance a single argument that isn’t based on the difficulty of navigating bureaucracies.

If not even that, how about a statement condemning Putin’s invasion?  Or is that too a bridge too far?

Either internet governance is meaningful and important in everyday life, and therefore its leaders and institutions must have a position on big events that affect the internet, or it is irrelevant and after decades we should admit that our governance structures cannot meet the moment and need to be reformed.

As for Andrew Sullivan’s statement as head of ISOC, it is a very good summary of the arguments against blocking .RU.  Effectively, he is saying that the internet is and must remain apolitical and serve as a connecting force and not a divisive one.

That sounds good and right on the face of it, but if that’s the case, I have a few questions:

- where is ISOC’s statement on Putin dismantling free and open internet within Russia?

- where is ISOC’s statement on Putin’s ongoing violent effort to dismantle the free and open internet in Ukraine?

Surely these actual, real, and effective actions to harm the internet deserve as much of a reaction than the hypothetical harm of a hypothetical action. I am struck by the tender concern that Russian citizens should have unfettered internet while Ukrainian users huddling in bomb shelters without internet access (or power, or food) are asked to cheer the principle of universal access.

My view remains that neutrality in the face of mass murder is not neutral.  These are extraordinary times, yet neither ICANN nor ISOC nor indeed any internet governance institution that I’m aware of — and I would be glad to stand corrected — can muster the courage to forcefully condemn, in a stand-alone statement, Putin’s attempt not only to eradicate Ukrainians’ free access to the internet but all the rest of their human rights as well.

As a group, internet governance experts have an opportunity to raise their voice and demonstrate that a murderous invading regime cannot be normalized by continuing business as usual.

So far, I have heard nothing but crickets.

On Mar 13, 2022, at 1:07 AM, Holly Raiche via At-Large <at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org<mailto:at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org>> wrote:


Please read the statement from the ISOC CEO - a very well argued statement about why cutting off .ru is not the answer, regardless of how much we all deplored the actions Russia has taken



On Mar 12, 2022, at 7:59 PM, Roberto Gaetano via At-Large <at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org<mailto:at-large at atlarge-lists.icann.org>> wrote:

Unfortunately, it is not an international law issue, otherwise it would be solved without any responsibility by ICANN - just follow the order of the judge.

The problem lies elsewhere, and is whether ICANN is or not an independent authority that can be trusted for following basic principles and apply them evenly in all cases.

If ICANN decides to remove .ru from the root, based on a request by Ukraine (who, by the way, is no longer insisting in asking this, maybe because they have understood the unintended consequences) I don’t see how it could resist the request of removing the ccTLDs of what the US consider “rogue” countries, like Iran, Cuba, and others.

And this besides all what has been said at length in this and other lists, like that it will not make .ru disappear, just invite operators to have their own copy of the root.

This said, there are other actions that ICANN can take, but after having decided whether it will keep its reputation of being a reliable steward for the Internet infrastructure in the global interest or indulge in actions that, while not achieving any practical result, will be emotionally satisfying.


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