The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global not-for-profit partnership of people dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable, has declined a request from the Ukraine government to shut down DNS root servers in Russia and revoke Russian domains such as .ru, .рф, and .su.

In a letter to Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Digital Transformation, Ukraine, Göran Marby, President and Chief Executive Officer of ICANN, said: “Agreed policies do not provide for ICANN to take unilateral action to disconnect these domains as you request. You can understand why such a system cannot operate based on requests from one territory or country concerning internal operations within another territory or country. Such a change in the process would have devastating and permanent effects on the trust and utility of this global system.”

Fedorov had asked ICANN to target Russia’s access to the Internet by revoking specific country code top-level domains operated from within Russia, arranging the revocation of SSL certificates issued within those domains, and shutting down a subset of root servers located in Russia.

In response, Marby said ICANN is an independent technical organisation that manages the Internet’s unique identifiers. “ICANN is a facilitator of the security, stability, and resiliency of these identifiers with the objective of a single, global, interoperable Internet. In our role as the technical coordinator of unique identifiers for the Internet, we take actions to ensure that the workings of the Internet are not politicised, and we have no sanction-levying authority. Essentially, ICANN has been built to ensure that the Internet works, not for its coordination role to be used to stop it from working,”

“As you know, the Internet is a decentralised system. No one actor has the ability to control it or shut it down. ICANN’s primary role, through the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), is to ensure the consistent and unique assignment of Internet identifiers, in line with global policies. These policies were developed by a multi-stakeholder community that includes technical experts, businesses, academics, civil society, governments and other stakeholders, who worked collaboratively to solve policy and technical challenges through consensus. It is a model that has allowed the Internet to flourish over decades, and this broad and inclusive approach to decision-making fosters the global public interest and makes the Internet resilient against unilateral decision-making,” Marby added in a letter dated March 2, 2022.

Marby said that while Ukraine’s request is aimed at helping users seek reliable information in alternative domain zones and prevent propaganda and disinformation, it is only through broad and unimpeded access to the Internet that citizens can receive reliable information and a diversity of viewpoints.

“Regardless of the source, ICANN does not control Internet access or content. Within our mission, we maintain neutrality and act in support of the global Internet. Our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the Internet – regardless of the provocations. ICANN applies its policies consistently and in alignment with documented processes. To make unilateral changes would erode trust in the multistakeholder model and the policies designed to sustain global Internet interoperability,” said Marby.

Experts said ICANN has taken the right satnce in the matter as it sets a precedent against any country from weaponising Internet access. “The response from ICANN is a message to not only the beleaguered Ukrainian authorities, but to all other nations that ICANN’s authority is limited and is exercised under its complex global multi-stakeholders structure. Imagine if one were to hypothetically even assume that such demands could accede to it could very well lead to situations such as the USA demanding to cut off Iran, Syria and, Israel asking to disconnect Palestine, China demanding to cut of Taiwan,” said Amitabh Singhal, former President of Internet Service Providers Association of India, and former CEO of National Internet Exchange of India.  

“I think what Ukraine can do is to ask its own network operators to try to block off traffic from Russian sites if they think that’ll help.,” he added.