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.


12 responses to “WP Engine, Pantheon, and Others Drop Support for Russian Business Customers”

  1. Companies pledge to fight censorship, but they support censorship by switching off all Russian-based accounts. That is just what Putin wants, to keep all speech imprisoned within the Russian cyberspace, its repressive laws and leaking domestic cybercompanies. This collective move is mostly symbolic, but it greatly and firstly affects people that are pro-West and anti-war. Last but not least, some day these companies will come back to the Russian market, but many people wouldn’t do business with them because of their betrayal and unreliability.

    • Yeah, I’m concerned that we are gleefully putting in place a global framework to arbitrarily deny service to groups of people like this.

      It is tempting when it is something that we all believe in, such as this crisis, but once the powers are in place, they will be used again, and again. I’m not convinced we will all unanimously agree on all implementations in the future.

      The current crisis is fresh and visceral, but there are plenty of terrible things that have happened and are happening around the world. If we are punishing people by their governments actions, we will find ourselves with it arriving at our own doorsteps soon enough.

      • A better reply could not be conceived.

        If we are punishing people by their governments actions, we will find
        ourselves with it arriving at our own doorsteps soon enough.

        I can name at least two other one side wars, where not only there is no action taken for the residents of those countries (which have no voice in the conflict) and instead Wp keeps doing business. why?

  2. How will the punishment of ordinary people help resolve the existing conflict? I don’t see any connection here. Is it just to score points on the political agenda, which does not fit with the ideals of the WP to democratize the publication.

    • Putin can stop murdering Ukrainians and disposing of Russian soldiers at any time. The more pressure there is on him from ordinary Russians, the better. But yes, it’s sad that his selfish actions are affecting people’s financial wellbeing in his own country. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to mind.

    • Your choice of words here is very interesting. “Conflict” in this context is a very gentle way of describing what is actually happening and also dropping support for Russian customers is not a “punishment” of ordinary people, no matter how much you would like to change the narrative of the horror that is actually happening in Ukraine right now.

  3. To those with concerns about censorship, imagine your business is forced to do something that helps raise revenue (taxes) for a foreign government that is killing their innocent neighbors. Perhaps you’d like the freedom to not be involved with that in any way? Maybe you’d even want to use whatever influence you have to do something about it.

    It’s interesting to me how fast people call for controls on businesses in the name of freedom. These days, if a company doesn’t accept everything, it’s “censorship”. I’m sorry, but WP Engine, Facebook, etc… they’re not public services. They have owners and those owners ought to be as free to make their own decisions as everybody else (Ukrainians not excepted).

    • There own business decisions just not with respect to privacy laws, labour laws, property laws, and contract laws…

      If these companies are not operating in China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE then great. They have a consistent ethical framework to which their businesses operate. However, I doubt they refuse customers from these markets on the basis of what their governments do.

      Beyond that, what are the ethical considerations for blank cancelling services in Russia with respect to non-businesses? If a Russian hospital, homeless shelter or an animal shelter was hosting with these hosting services, are they being cancelled as well?

      What a state does, and a what a population does or supports are not wholly linked. The next time the US invades a country illegally like Iraq, will these hosting companies withdraw from the US market completely on the basis of the US governments actions? Doubtful.

      Trying to stop human suffering be causing more human suffering just seems like a bizarre thing to do. This is what your doing if you cancel for example, the hosting of freelancer website designers in Russia etc. Will every Russian affected understand the reasoning behind it? Or will some start to hate Western Countries more as a result of the pain inflected on them for things completely outside their control?

  4. “What a state does, and a what a population does or supports are not wholly linked.”

    It does in Russia, according to Russian constitution article 3.1 : “The bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation shall be its multinational people.”

  5. I agree with every factor that you have pointed out. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts on this. Memories of traumatic events are as equally dangerous as experiencing them. Many people with PTSD may intentionally or unconsciously avoid people, things, or places that may remind them or trigger flashbacks. They might even become reclusive from the people close to them and steer clear from discussing their military service or experience.


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