Crimean IT Industry Wilts Under Western Sanctions

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

For the last few months, Russia has been the target of Western economic sanctions over its involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Crimea, a region Russia annexed from Ukraine in March of last year, has borne the brunt of the punishment.

The banking industry came under fire first, with Visa and MasterCard removing support for bank cards in the region. Then, in the middle of January, Apple began to send out notices to developers whose accounts were registered in Crimea, informing them their accounts would be blocked.

Hello from Apple to Crimean developers.

Apple also ordered retailers to stop all shipments and sales of its products and services in the region. At the end of the last month, iOS users in Crimea reported that downloads of both free and paid apps from the App Store was no longer available. 

Good morning. Wasn't able to update free apps either. Purchases unavailable.
[Text in screenshot: Purchase is not available in your region according to the European Council’s Regulation (EU) No. 1351/2014 and the U.S. President’s Executive Order No. 13685.] 

Android users soon suffered the same fate: Google is now also acting to block the use its products and services in Crimea. The company has already ceased Google Play services and has blocked AdSense and AdWords accounts in the region. Free services like Gmail, Google Search, and Maps remain available for Crimean citizens. Two more US companies—Valve, who runs the online video game market Steam, and the PayPal payment system—have followed suit and blocked access to their services from Crimea.

The companies are complying with the sanctions under a US presidential order imposed on Crimea in protest at Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. According to the executive order, US companies should stop any import or export of “goods, services, or technology” to or from “the Crimean region of Ukraine” before February 1.

Local users have already found an easy way to counteract the Google and Apple block by simply changing the location in their profile settings. So far, this seems to work for the App Store and the Google Play store. Things are much more complicated for developers, because virtually all of them had been involved in outsourcing, or working for US or European countries from Crimea. Local IT entrepreneurs, like Pavel Berman, an ex-producer at IT-firm “Sloboda,” told Apparat this was killing the IT industry in Crimea. 

Пока непонятно, на чём блокировки остановятся. По сути, IT в Крыму если не мёртв, то бьётся в конвульсиях

It is still impossible to tell how far the situation with blockages will go. In essence, the Crimea’s IT-industry is in its final death throes, if not dead yet.

Crimea, which at one point was a sort of Mecca for freelance developers, who moved here for better jobs, competitive salaries, and the seaside climate, is now seeing disillusioned professionals unsure of their future. The developers are faced with only a few choices if they wish to continue their work: move away from Crimea, move their work to servers outside of Crimea (e.g., to Russia, which comes with its own set of problems) or use Tor and other VPN tools to manage computers in Crimea. None of these are ideal for people who have been nurturing a local business or a software outsourcing company.

Beyond the circle of IT-professionals, citizens in Crimea don’t seem to overly care about the tech-related sanctions. The mobile industry in the region is underdeveloped, so Apple and Google services are not in high acclaim, Berman said. Developer Dmitry Boychenko also said he thought rising prices and other everyday issues were at the forefront of people's minds.

Думаю, что санкции именно интернет-компаний для большинства оказались малозаметными. На общем фоне, когда есть трудности с транспортной логистикой и неадекватные цены, выросшие в два-три раза, это всё мелочи.

I think, that Internet sanctions in particular were insignificant for most of the people. Overall, when you have troubles with logistics, transportation, and unbelievable prices that have grown two-three times, this [sanctions] means nothing.

Even before the latest crunch of sanctions, Crimea had become a closed region. With its annexation, the peninsula has lost access to alternative sources of information, with Ukrainian media taken off the air or blocked online. The latest sanctions, taking away even more Internet and online service accessibility, will undoubtedly make the isolation worse.

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