Key US provider of Internet to Russia plans to cut service there, citing ‘unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,’ sources say

Russia, like most nations, is connected to the world by several backbone providers but Cogent is among its largest. Friday’s action, which was expected to begin taking effect at noon Eastern time, is likely to cause some disruptions and diminished performance in Russia, though it won’t be enough to knock the nation offline, say people familiar with the company’s actions, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet public.

Cogent officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In a letter to one of Cogent’s Russian customers obtained by The Washington Post, the company wrote, “In light of the unwarranted and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Cogent is terminating all of your services effective at 5 pm GMT on March 4, 2022. economic sanctions put in place as a result of the invasion and the increasingly uncertain security situation make it impossible for Cogent to continue to provide you with service. All Cogent-provided ports and IP address space will be reclaimed as of the termination date.”

Ukrainian officials have been lobbying American Internet companies to cut off services from Russia and also asked ICANN, the California-based nonprofit group that oversees aspect of Internet functionality worldwide, to suspend the main Russian Internet domain, .ru. On Wednesday ICANN rejected the request.

While Ukraine’s calls for curbs on online sources to Russian government propaganda have generated wide sympathy and some action by key American companies, the effort to cut off Russia from the Internet overall has generated significant backlash from digital rights advocates. They argue that isolating Russians from online services — and especially social media — deprives them of access to information about the war in Ukraine, leaving government-controlled media as the only source of news.

Other US backbone providers have been debating cutting off Russian customers in recent days, and any following Cogent’s lead would amplify the impact.

Network security researcher Barrett Lyon said Cogent’s move alone would immediately hit traffic from North America, causing connections across the Atlantic to the Russian network to lag, especially in video. Russians trying to watch streaming video from the US are expected to see the first deterioration.

“Cogent is usually seen as a lower-cost network option. As a result, they end up carrying a lot of traffic for video and low-cost packets,” Lyon said. “That traffic will reconverge to other networks and redistribute, causing a huge network load across networks willing to carry traffic for Rostelecom.”

As of Friday morning, Cogent had direct connections to more than 6,000 network blocks, or large chunks of Internet addresses, handled by Rostelecom, one of the largest swaths from the US

Earlier on Friday, as Rostelecom announced its fourth quarter earnings, it said it would hold off on projecting future results because of the uncertainty sparked by the Ukraine conflict.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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