Tensions between Russia and the U.S. over Crimea are spilling into the world of tech: developers are reporting that Apple is sending out notices of termination to people whose accounts are registered in Crimea, citing sanctions that the U.S. has ordered against the region as a response to Russia annexing it earlier in 2014. This means the developers cannot create nor publish apps in Apple’s App Store. The move follows Valve apparently also terminating access to its Steam games distribution platform in Crimea, too.
Apple’s note, which has been reproduced in more than one place online (including here, on Russian-language tech site Habrahabr and here), says that the termination is effective immediately and requires the developers to cease all use of Apple software and destroy related materials. It’s also blocked their access to its developer portal.
The note in full:
This letter Serves as Notice of termination of the Registered Apple Developer Agreement (the “Agreement RAD”) Between you and Apple, Effective immediately.
Apple May terminate your Status as Registered Apple Developer A at Any time at ITS Sole Discretion Under the RAD Agreement. The new sanctions on the Crimea Region announced by the US Government on December 19, 2014 and announced by the European Commission on December 18, 2014 prohibit the continuation of the RAD Agreement between you and Apple. For more information, please review Executive Order 13685 and the European Commission Notice.
We Would like to remind you of your Obligations with regard to software and All Other Confidential information you That Obtained from Apple as A Registered Apple Developer. You must promptly Cease All use of and destroy such materials and Comply with All the Other Obligations set forth termination in the RAD Agreement.
We have contacted Apple for further comment and to find out what other services might be affected by the sanctions. From what we understand, developers who are affected could theoretically change their address, say to a Russian or a Ukranian one, and will again be allowed to join RAD program. We will update as we learn more.
The backstory lies in a classic case of using economics as a diplomatic lever. Apple’s move is in response to an Executive Order signed by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 19, which describes “additional steps to address the Russian occupation of the Crimea.” The region, a peninsula that juts into the Black Sea, has less than 2 million inhabitants, but it has become a bone of contention over tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
The U.S. has sided with Ukraine in opposing Russia’s annexation of it in March 2014, and these measures — made to fall in line with similar sanctions crafted by the European Union — are intended to tighten the screws on Russia to relent.
Technology squarely falls into the items that the U.S. cites in the order. Among the various activities that are now prohibited are new investment in the region by a U.S. person; the importation into the U.S. “directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from the Crimea region of Ukraine”; and “the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of any goods, services, or technology to the Crimea region of Ukraine”. Other areas covered in the order include investments and immigration.
Before this, there have been other moments where Apple’s business with Russia has been called into question.
The company at one point last month closed its online store as the value of the Ruble plunged. It then reopened it several days later with prices up by 35% (which is huge, considering that Apple products were already priced at a big premium for the average buyer). Nevertheless, with a population of 144 million people and a strong tech culture, the country represents a lot of emerging market opportunity for Apple (and others).
Tech companies have faced problems in Russia of another kind as well: Putin’s government has put in place measures for tracking data on websites, and restrictions on certain types of content. This has resulted in some sites, like Github, getting blocked, and others, like Intel, shutting down some of their online operations.