Internet Fragmentation > Disconnecting Countries from the Global Internet

People in War or Crisis Need the Internet More Than Ever

Region: Global
Threat type: Limiting Global Access
Last updated: 1 December 2023

Politicizing decisions about the Internet sets a dangerous precedent. We could end up losing the Internet and its benefits.

In times of crisis or conflict, access to the open Internet becomes more important than ever. Not just for accurate information, opportunity, and communication, but also for hope and reassurance. Any restrictions imposed on the Internet will only be a burden to people in these countries.

The war in Ukraine spurred a wide range of reactions around the world, focused on ways to discourage Russia’s attack. In February 2022, officials in Ukraine asked two bodies, ICANN and RIPE NCC, to take action against Russia. RIPE NCC is an Internet registry responsible for allocation of addresses. ICANN is a non-profit, multistakeholder organization that’s responsible for securing some of the Internet’s vital operations.

They asked ICANN to revoke the rights of Russia’s ccTLDs—the domain name endings .RU, .SU and .рф, and to shut down root servers in Russia. They also asked RIPE NCC to revoke the rights of Russian members to IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

At the same time, countries were also issuing sanctions against Russia that had the effect of disconnecting parts of the Internet’s infrastructure from Russian networks. This had an impact on Internet infrastructure companies and Internet exchange points. ICANN and RIPE NCC refused the request because it conflicted with their policies and their multistakeholder approach.

When a country’s networks are disconnected from the Internet, there are a number of unintended consequences–for the people in that country as well as for the Internet more broadly.

It hinders the reliability, resilience, and availability of the Internet, and can disrupt the network’s operations beyond borders. This country-level disconnection splinters the Internet along geographical, political, commercial, and technical lines. It also sets a dangerous precedent that undermines trust in the Internet’s multistakeholder governance processes and sets a precedent of using the Internet as a geopolitical weapon.

At the societal level, it can undermine the use of the Internet at a time when people need it most, to find accurate information and access means of safety. Rather than another dimension of accountability for nation states, this approach legitimizes a dangerous playbook. Other regimes might use it to control Internet access in future conflicts.


ICANN and RIPE NCC both refused the requests to revoke Russian access. It would have been in conflict with their multistakeholder governance processes. After this refusal, G7 countries committed to issuing exemptions to sanctions for telecommunications services, so that people in Russia could still have access to the Internet.

While this was avoided, it is important to maintain awareness around attempts to disconnect countries from the global Internet for political reasons.

Our Position

We cannot let the Internet become a pawn of geopolitics. Politicizing decisions about the Internet’s inner workings sets a dangerous precedent that puts us on the fast track to a ‘splinternet’ — an Internet artificially carved up along political, economic, and technological boundaries. The effects may be irreversible, opening the door for further restrictions across the globe.

We call on governments, businesses, and organizations worldwide to ensure that the day-to-day technical governance of the Internet is not politicized. It is vital that the management and operations of Internet infrastructure, including the naming, addressing, routing and security systems, remain apolitical. Sanctions should not disrupt access to and  use of the Internet. Where needed, sanctions regimes should offer exemptions to ensure continued service of Internet infrastructure.

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Talking Points

  • In times of war and conflict, governments, service providers, and other organizations are increasingly considering actions that could irreversibly damage the global Internet. Even when there are valid reasons for sanctions, we cannot support decisions that would harm the very nature of the network.
  • We need to prevent geopolitical decisions from fragmenting the Internet. Otherwise, we will increasingly lose the global Internet we rely upon to attempts to carve it up along political, economic, technological boundaries. This will significantly harm our ability to communicate, create, and connect.
  • Supporting victims of geopolitical conflict means ensuring free and open access to the Internet, which is a critical lifeline for civilians.