“Our goal is not to hurt anyone. It’s just so the Russian government doesn’t have another tool in its war chest,” Schaeffer said in an interview with The Washington Post.
Cogent, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the world’s largest providers of what’s known as the Internet’s backbone – roughly comparable to an interstate highway system, providing the primary channel for data flows that local businesses then route to individual domains. Schaefer said Cogent Networks carry about a quarter of the world’s internet traffic. Cogent has dozens of clients in Russia, and many of them, like the state-owned telecom giant Rostelecom, are close to the government.
Russia, like most countries, is connected to the world by many backbone service providers, but Cogent is among the largest. The company began winding down its Russian companies at noon on Friday, but has been doing so gradually. Schaefer said that some customers have requested a delay of up to several days while they find other sources on the Internet, and the company is trying to accommodate those requests.
“We are very confident that we are not interfering with anyone’s ability to obtain some information,” he said, although he acknowledged the possibility of slowdowns and other disruptions with Russia.
In a letter sent Thursday to a Russian Cogent customer and obtained by The Washington Post, the company wrote, “In light of the unprovoked and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Cogent is terminating all of your services as of 5 p.m. GMT on March 4, 2022. Sanctions The economic situation imposed as a result of the invasion and the increasingly unstable security situation makes it impossible for Cogent to continue to provide you with service. All Cogent-provided ports and IP address space will be restored as of the termination date.”
Ukrainian officials have been pressing US Internet companies to cut services to Russia and also asked ICANN, the California-based nonprofit group that oversees some of the Internet’s worldwide functions, to suspend Russia’s main Internet domain, .ru. On Wednesday, ICANN denied the request.
While Ukraine’s calls for restrictions on online sources of Russian government propaganda generated widespread sympathy and some action by major US companies, efforts to isolate Russia from the Internet in general have generated a backlash from digital rights advocates. They argue that isolating Russians from online services — especially social media — deprives them of access to information about the war in Ukraine, making government-controlled media the only source of news.
“This move by Cogent is misleading. Disrupting the Russian people’s connection to the global Internet is detrimental to those who seek to obtain and share the truth,” tweeted Rebecca MacKinnon, vice president of the foundation that hosts Wikipedia: “Including many Wikipedians who contribute to the related page. Russia invaded Ukraine, despite government threats.”
News of the looming Cogent action began to spread Thursday after Mikhail Klimarev, executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Internet, which advocates for digital freedoms in Russia, published a copy of the Cogent Termination Letter For a Russian customer on his Telegram channel.
“Very bad news,” Klimarev wrote in his Telegram message. “I would be glad if this is not confirmed.”
But soon it was. Telecom analysts were closely tracking events on Friday to see how much of an impact Cogent’s work had on Russia’s internet service. Doug Madhuri, director of internet analysis at web monitoring company Kentik, wrote in Blog postA primary carrier separating its customers in a country the size of Russia is unprecedented in the history of the Internet.
Other backbone providers in the US have discussed cutting off Russian customers in recent days, and any follow-through on Cogent’s leadership would amplify the impact.
Lumen Technologies, another key contact for Rostelecom, declined to say if it would. But she said she would not deal with new Russian business.
“Lumen has stopped selling all new products and services to both Russia-based companies and non-Russian companies where services will be provided in Russia,” the company said, adding that it had finalized a deal to provide services to a Russian financial institution.
Network security researcher Barrett Lyon said Cogent’s move alone would immediately affect traffic from North America, causing delays in transatlantic communications, especially in video. Russians trying to watch streaming videos from the US are expected to see the deterioration first.
Cogent is usually seen as a low cost network option. As a result, they end up carrying a lot of low-cost video and packet traffic,” Leon said. “This traffic will go back to other networks and redistribute, causing a huge network load across networks wanting to pass traffic to Rostelecom.”
As of Friday morning, Cogent had direct connections to more than 6,000 network blocks, or large portions of Internet addresses, handled by Rostelecom, one of the largest in the United States.
Earlier on Friday, when Rostelecom announced its fourth-quarter earnings, it said it would delay forecasting future results due to the uncertainty raised by the conflict in Ukraine.
This is an evolving story. . Please check back for updates