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Apple pauses all product sales in Russia, citing concern for Ukraine

Apple Pay and other services have been limited while RT News and Sputnik News are no longer available for download from the App Store outside Russia

Apple has paused product sales in Ukraine. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)
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SAN FRANCISCO — Apple said it is pausing product sales in Russia and has limited Apple Pay within the country as pressure mounts on businesses to impose restrictions after the invasion of Ukraine.

“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,” it said in a statement Tuesday.

The iPhone maker said it has paused all product sales in Russia and last week stopped all exports into its sales channel in the country. Sales channels include resellers of Apple products, such as big-box retailers and websites. 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, it said.

Apple has also disabled both traffic and live incidents in Apple Maps in Ukraine as a safety and precautionary measure for Ukrainian citizens, it said. Google similarly restricted its Maps features this weekend.

Apple said on March 1 that it had paused the sales of its products in Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Video: Reuters)

The dire predictions about a Russian cyber onslaught haven’t come true in Ukraine. At least not yet.

Apple’s move came after Ukraine digital transformation minister Mykhailo Fedorov sent a letter late last week to Apple chief executive Tim Cook, asking the company to stop supplying Apple services to Russia and to block the App Store within the country.

“But we need your support — in 2022, modern technology is perhaps the best answer to the tanks, multiple rocket launchers (hrad) and missiles,” he wrote in the letter.

Apple is the latest company to impose restrictions in Russia — its moves came after major social media companies including YouTube, Facebook and TikTok moved to ban Russian state media outlets in Europe. Other Western companies, including Shell and General Motors, announced plans this week to end or freeze their dealings with the country. Companies are reacting both to comply with U.S. and European government sanctions against Russia, as well as oppose Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Western businesses’ flight from Russia continues with Shell, GM and others ending or suspending dealings

Apple has long had a complicated relationship with Russia and other countries led by authoritarian regimes. In September, Apple gave in to pressure from Roskomnadzor, the Russian censorship agency, when it removed a “Smart Voting” app in that country. The app helped voters opposed to Putin cast ballots in a way that would prevent splitting opposition support among multiple candidates and handing victory to the Putin candidate.

Apple’s decision Tuesday to stand up to Putin is a rare stance for a company that usually abides by local laws, even in countries where the application of the laws are criticized by human rights advocates.

In October 2019, during anti-China protests in Hong Kong, Apple removed the flag of Taiwan, a country China does not recognize, from the emoji offered in its keyboard and banned the media outlet Quartz, which had covered the protests. It also removed HKMap.live, which Hong Kong protesters had used to evade police officers. At the time, Apple spokesman Fred Sainz defended those moves, saying it had heard from police in Hong Kong that the app had been used to ambush police.

Major social media platforms ban Russian state media in Europe

The nature of Apple’s business, which requires a physical presence in many places around the world, complicates things when it faces pressure to stand up to human rights abuses. For instance, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Apple is supplied by 10 smelters in Russia, producing gold, tungsten and tantalum used in products like the iPhone.

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Apple isn’t the largest smartphone company in Russia. In 2021, it came in third behind Samsung and Xiaomi, according to data from market research firm IDC. Samsung shipped 10.5 million phones to the country last year, while Apple shipped just 4.9 million. Samsung did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The withdrawal could create an opening for other smartphone makers, said Jeff Fieldhack, research director at Counterpoint Technology Market Research. He says the risk for any device maker stopping sales in Russia is that Chinese manufacturers “will happily fill the void.”

Heather Kelly contributed to this report.

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