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WP Engine, Pantheon, and Others Drop Support for Russian Business Customers

WordPress managed hosting company WP Engine has joined Acquia, Fastly, Gatsby, Netlify, and Pantheon to begin booting Russian companies off their platforms.

In addition to the joint protest, each organization has also pledged support to the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), a non-profit that documents internet censorship around the world.

“As part of that effort to increase our support, we are adopting a stronger stance against the actions of the Russian government while supporting the ideals we hold true as an Open Web company, which is why WP Engine has joined with other Open Web companies Acquia, Fastly, Gatsby, Netlify, and Pantheon to stand with Ukraine,” WP Engine said in a statement. “WP Engine has ceased all business with Russian companies that were using our platform.”

These stricter measures came after the company had already donated to Polish and Ukrainian humanitarian funds, matching employee funds. WP Engine condemned Russia’s invasion in its first published statement on the matter:

As the world watches in horror, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to leave heart-wrenching destruction in its wake. It is truly shocking that in 2022, a major world power would launch an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation, causing the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since WWII.

As they face unimaginable hardships, we stand firmly with the Ukrainian people and condemn the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine.  

Similarly, Acquia tweeted earlier this week that the company “will not provide software or services to organizations based in Russia.”

The coalition of organizations is sanctioning Russia in a similar way to Namecheap, and many other companies, that have terminated service for Russian customers. The world has never seen anything like it with the number of companies across every industry willingly sanctioning the Russian market without a government requirement to do so. Widespread outrage against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked a massive response from corporations and private enterprises.

“The net effect of so many companies exiting or pausing operations in Russia means the government sanctions might almost become a moot point. “It’s a chicken and egg story,” Leo Feler, senior economist at UCLA Anderson School of Management, told TIME magazine. “If enough businesses abandon the Russian market on their own, the Russian market is also going to shrink. You don’t need sanctions to do it if everyone self-sanctions.”

In the world of open source software, individuals, companies, and projects are grappling with the ethical implications of staying neutral versus imposing some form of sanctions. One misguided attempt at “protestware” was included as a dependency for a popular npm package with malicious code that deletes data by overwriting files for users based in Russia and Belarus. People are desperate to make a difference for those suffering in Ukraine, but they don’t always know the most effective way to direct their efforts.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) has taken a firm stance on the immutability of the freedoms and protections that open source licensing confers.

“Civil society has many non-violent ways at its disposal to resolve conflicts and it’s important to explore all possible avenues,” OSI Executive Director Stefano Maffulli said.

“When it comes to open source software, however, the Open Source Definition is clear: There must be ‘no discrimination against persons or groups’ and ‘no discrimination against fields of endeavor.’”

Maffulli elaborated on these thoughts in an interview with The New Stack, noting that limiting distribution is one option for protesting but that this could hurt Russian citizens more than “the Russian military and powerful elites who certainly have the means to develop workarounds.”

Limiting distribution would likely be far more difficult than denying service to Russian businesses, which is why this tactic has been more readily adopted. Businesses are using whatever means they have within their spheres of influence to make an impact.

The WordPress project stopped short of explicitly condemning the aggression and has focused more on the humanitarian crisis and supporting peacebuilders. The project produced a special edition of its WP Briefing podcast to address the situation in Ukraine earlier this month.

“The downstream humanitarian crises of the invasion are unimaginable,” WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenweg said.

“And seeing destruction in the world we live in is confusing, disconcerting, and difficult.”

Mullenweg invited the WordPress community to stand “with those in the world working to end conflict and working toward a world of peace, promise, and opportunity.”

Many companies have followed this same approach with efforts aimed at providing relief for refugees and economic support for Ukrainians who are still fighting. WP Engine, Acquia, Fastly, Gatsby, Netlify, and Pantheon were compelled to go beyond their humanitarian efforts to put some pressure on Russia. It’s not yet clear whether disempowering Russian companies will have any bearing on the outcome of this conflict.

After a nearly month long war that has left cities like Mariupol in ashes, with Russia’s war crimes on full display across media outlets around the world, companies are coming under more pressure to act.