[Editor’s note: This is a constantly evolving war with circumstances changing on an hourly basis. It is impossible to capture all of the actions subscription and payments companies are taking. We attempted to hit the highlights and apologize for any inadvertent omissions.]
Now entering the third week of fighting, the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to rack up casualties, leaving towns demolished in their wake. Despite cease-fire talks, no agreement has been reached and the war wages on, putting millions of Ukrainians in danger. Around the world, governments are imposing steep sanctions in an attempt to tie Russia’s hands, but so far, the country remains relentless.
Due to the government sanctions and a sense of global responsibility, many companies and organizations are suspending operations, shutting down services and payment networks, and attempting to protect their staff located in these volatile regions. Others are pooling their resources and vetting aid and relief organizations to support humanitarian efforts. Here is a high-level summary of some of the actions subscription and payments companies have taken in recent weeks.
Mastercard shuts down payment network in Russia
Mastercard issued a statement on February 28 expressing their concern over the invasion by Russian military forces on Ukraine and Ukrainian people. Mastercard said their first priority is to protect their employees and their families who are located in the region. In addition, Mastercard is following regulatory orders to impose sanctions against Russia. At that time, Mastercard blocked multiple financial institutions from the Mastercard payment network.
As the war unfolds, Mastercard has taken further actions to support humanitarian efforts. Mastercard made a $2 million contribution to the Red Cross, Save the Children, and the company’s own employee assistance fund for humanitarian relief.
“Of the many roles we play, among the most important is ensuring the safety and security of the global payments ecosystem and our own network. Our Cyber & Intelligence and Corporate Security teams are working with governments and partners around the world to ensure the stability, integrity and resiliency of our systems, which are operating as normal. We are committed to active monitoring and rapid response to cyber-attacks, the threat of which is heightened significantly in the present environment,” said Michael Miebach for Mastercard in the February 28 statement.
With the situation continuing, regulators have asked Mastercard to take further action by suspending their network services in Russia entirely. This means that cards issued by Russian banks will not be supported by the Mastercard network, whether they are used inside or outside of Russia. No Mastercard issued outside the country will work in Russia at a merchant or an ATM.
“We don’t take this decision lightly. Mastercard has operated in Russia for more than 25 years. We have nearly 200 colleagues there who make this company so critical to many stakeholders. As we take these steps, we will continue to focus on their safety and well-being, including continuing to provide pay and benefits. When it is appropriate, and if it is permissible under the law, we will use their passion and creativity to work to restore operations,” Mastercard said in a March 5 statement.
“These have been and will continue to be very difficult days – most of all for our employees and their families in Ukraine; for our colleagues with relatives and friends in the region; for our colleagues in Russia; and for the rest of us who are watching from afar. As we take this step, we join with so many others in hoping for and committing to a more positive, productive and peaceful future for us all,” said the company.
Visa ceases operations in Russia
Last Saturday, Visa announced that it would suspend all operations in Russia. They planned to work with their clients and partners and Russia to cease Visa transactions. After that transition is complete, all transactions initiated in Russia with Visa cards would no longer work outside the country and any Visa cards issued by financial institutions outside of Russia will no longer work within Russia.
“We are compelled to act following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the unacceptable events that we have witnessed,” said Al Kelly, chairman and chief executive officer of Visa Inc., in a March 5 statement. “We regret the impact this will have on our valued colleagues, and on the clients, partners, merchants and cardholders we serve in Russia. This war and the ongoing threat to peace and stability demand we respond in line with our values.”
PayPal suspends service in Russia
Also on March 5, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman announced the company has suspended PayPal services in Russia, and they have worked with governments and their partners to comply with all regulations, laws and sanctions.
“PayPal supports the Ukrainian people and stands with the international community in condemning Russia’s violent military aggression in Ukraine. The tragedy taking place in Ukraine is devastating for all of us, wherever we are in the world,” Schulman said in a message to employees.
In addition to suspending operations, PayPal customers had donated more than $3 million to international relief charities that provide humanitarian aid along with refugee support. The organizations include International Rescue Committee, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Direct Relief, Save the Children and others. PayPal has helped facilitate giving campaigns in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, the U.K., France, Ireland and Italy. They will soon add Spain, the Netherlands and Poland to the list.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to bring our unique capabilities and resources to bear to support humanitarian relief to those suffering in Ukraine who desperately need assistance. We will also continue to care for each other as a global employee community during this difficult and consequential time,” added Schulman.
Apple Pay and Google Pay not working for online payments
Customers of certain Russian banks hit by government sanctions will not be able to use Apple Pay or Google Pay or make online payments to companies that are registered in countries that have issued sanctions. The Central Bank of Russia reported that the impacted banks include VTB Group, Sovcombank, Novikombank, Promsvyazbank, and Otkritie.
Netflix, TikTok, Twitch, YouTube and Nintendo impose restrictions
The popular streaming subscription service has suspended its service in Russia to protest the country’s military invasion of Ukraine, reports Variety. In addition, Netflix will pause its future projects and acquisitions from Russia. According to Variety, the streaming giant was working on four Russian originals, including one that was in the process of filming. Those projects are all on hold. Netflix also said “nyet” to hosting Russian propaganda channels that a new law required Netflix to air. BBC said the law went into effect on March 1, and it requires all audiovisual services with more than 100,000 users in the country to carry 20 major state television channels.
“Given the circumstances, we have decided to suspend our service in Russia,” said a Netflix spokesperson.
Short-form video platform TikTok has temporarily stopped Russian users from posting new videos. This restriction impacts approximately 36 million users in Russia, reports Tubefilter. The hope is that removing the ability to upload videos will help curb the spread of misinformation and propaganda. Twitch is currently withholding payments to users based in Russia, according to GN24 Video Game News.
YouTube has also announced that certain channels will not be able to collect ad revenue, including RT, a state-funded media outlet, The Hollywood Reporter says.
“In light of extraordinary circumstances in Ukraine … we’re pausing a number of channels’ ability to monetize on YouTube, including several Russian channels affiliated with recent sanctions,” YouTube said in the statement.
Even Nintendo has made a business decision seemingly impacted by the war. The company announced Wednesday they will delay the April 8 release of a military-style video game, Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp. In the game, players command an army, fight enemies, and capture towns and base camps. While the game is cartoonish rather than realistic, the company is delaying the release due to “recent world events,” reports the Wall Street Journal. Nintendo is also suspending shipping of Nintendo products to Russia for the time being.
Tech companies suspend product and service sales
In line with government sanctions, some of the biggest tech companies in the world have stopped selling their products and services in Russia to protest the war. They’ve also helped used their foundations and philanthropic arms to support Ukrainian refugees and aid organizations in a variety of ways, including technology support, financial support, personal safety measures, and protection against cyberattacks.
Adobe ceases product and service sales
On Friday, Shantanu Narayen of Adobe announced the company would stop selling products and services to Russia.
“We have been complying with the government sanctions being imposed by the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom to ensure Adobe’s products and services are not being used by prohibited entities. In addition, we are terminating access to Adobe Creative Cloud, Adobe Document Cloud and Adobe Experience Cloud to Russian government-controlled media outlets,” said Narayen in a March 4 blog post.
Adobe also announced the Adobe Foundation made grants of more than $1 million to provide direct aid and medical assistance to Ukrainian communities and to help with resettlement and transportation needs for families fleeing the country. In an effort to protect freedom of information, the Adobe Foundation has also made contributions to Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Microsoft suspends sales and helps protect against cyberattacks
Last week, Microsoft announced it would suspend all new sales of products and services in Russia. The company’s Philanthropies and UN Affairs team is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN agencies to help refugees with technology and financial support for key NGOs.
“In addition, we are coordinating closely and working in lockstep with the governments of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, and we are stopping many aspects of our business in Russia in compliance with governmental sanctions decisions,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft president and vice chair, in a March 4 blog post.
“We believe we are most effective in aiding Ukraine when we take concrete steps in coordination with the decisions being made by these governments and we will take additional steps as this situation continues to evolve,” Smith added.
“Since the war began, we have acted against Russian positioning, destructive or disruptive measures against more than 20 Ukrainian government, IT and financial sector organizations. We have also acted against cyberattacks targeting several additional civilian sites. We have publicly raised our concerns that these attacks against civilians violate the Geneva Convention,” said Smith.
Apple stops sales and imposes other restrictions on Russia
In response to the violence imposed on Ukraine by Russia, Apple is stopping the exports of physical products to Russia. Apple has also removed two Russian state-run media organizations, Russia Today and Sputnik, from Apple’s App Store outside of Russia. As a safety and precautionary measure, Apple has disabled traffic and live incident features in the Apple Maps app, reports The New York Times.
Apple issued the following statement, published by The Verge:
“We are deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stand with all of the people who are suffering as a result of the violence. We are supporting humanitarian efforts, providing aid for the unfolding refugee crisis, and doing all we can to support our teams in the region.
We have taken a number of actions in response to the invasion. We have paused all product sales in Russia. Last week, we stopped all exports into our sales channel in the country. Apple Pay and other services have been limited. RT News and Sputnik News are no longer available for download from the App Store outside Russia. And we have disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine as a safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens.
We will continue to evaluate the situation and are in communication with relevant governments on the actions we are taking. We join all those around the world who are calling for peace,” wrote Apple.
Google takes action to protect and support Ukraine
Tech giant Google is taking a number of punitive actions against Russia, as well as providing support for those in Ukraine. For example, Google.org and Google employees have contributed $25 million in donations and in-kind support to help relief efforts. This includes $5 million in employee matching funds, $5 million in direct grants, $5 million in advertising credits for aid organizations to connect people with the help they need, and $10 million to address immediate humanitarian and longer-term assistance for refugees in Poland.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is both a tragedy and a humanitarian disaster in the making. The international community’s response to this war continues to evolve and governments are imposing new sanctions and restrictions,” said Google in a March 1 blog post.
“Our teams are working around the clock to support people in Ukraine through our products, defend against cybersecurity threats, surface high-quality, reliable information and ensure the safety and security of our colleagues and their families in the region,” the company added.
Other actions include the following:
- Using an SOS alert system on Search in Ukraine, people can search for refugee and evacuation information.
- Google has temporarily disabled some live Google Maps features in Ukraine to protect communities and citizens.
- Google’s security teams are on call 24/7 to prevent Russian cyberattacks, to detect and block suspicious activity, and to protect Ukrainian users and local services.
- The company is trying to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation campaigns by blocking YouTube channels connected to RT and Sputnik across Europe.
- Google is complying to government sanction requirements.
- They are temporarily waiving international calling fees from Ukraine and from the U.S. to Ukraine on Google FI and to Ukraine for people using Google Voice.
“We’re continuing to monitor the situation and evolving government regulations – including sanctions – in the region. We are in constant communication with governments in Europe and globally so that we can work to implement their decisions promptly, including limiting the presence of Russian state-funded media across our platforms,” said Kent Walker for Google in a March 4 blog post.
Oracle suspends operations in the Russian Federation
SAP stands in solidarity
Also on March 2, Christian Klein, CEO of SAP SE, issued a statement saying the company had allocated €1 million for humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people and to work with Red Cross organizations, the UN Refugee Agency and other organizations to offer their technology to support their important work.
“…our software solutions can help organizations register refugees, coordinate volunteer efforts, and procure humanitarian goods. Additionally, we are working with Qualtrics to help non-profits and regional governments understand the most pressing needs of the people they serve and route them with accommodations and essential supplies on the ground. We have also offered to convert our office space at locations across Europe into warehousing and accommodation for refugees,” wrote Klein.
“The SAP family stands with everyone affected and horrified by the events in Ukraine. There are no winners in war, and we join others in calling for the restoration of peace,” Klein added.
On March 9, the company updated their post to reflect that they have suspended sales in Russia and Belarus.
News outlets pull out of Russia after censorship law implemented
Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that threatens to imprison journalists for up to 15 years for using “war” and “invasion” in their reporting of the Russian attack on Ukraine. The new censorship law, which seeks to promote propoganda, has driven out many media outlets including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CNN, Bloomberg News, BBC, and The New York Times, reports CNBC. Media outlets in Russia, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, are shutting down, or being shut down, too.
Poynter’s Tom Jones outlines the “grim consequences” of the media blackout in a recent column. Jones explains that the censorship law and subsequent exit of media outlets keeps Russian citizens without news sources or even access to social media for news to maintain connections with family and friends. They essentially have access to propaganda and no independent journalism outlets.
“In this case, no news is really bad news,” said Jones.