If the war between Ukraine and Russia comes down to a fight on the battlefield, the truth is that Europe’s largest country stands little chance against its much larger neighbor in terms of military strength. Despite the fact that Ukraine has put up a considerable fight so far, Russia has a clear military advantage in terms of soldiers and firepower.
Of course, even as Ukraine continues to defend its cities on the ground, it is also leveraging its biggest advantage–public opinion–by making its case on social media. Russia’s invasion has been universally condemned, largely because of the pressure put on the rest of the world by Ukraine’s social media-savvy leaders.
For example, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation (which is a very cool title, by the way), has made a series of public pleas to tech companies to help. On Friday, he published an open letter to Tim Cook asking Apple to “stop supplying Apple services and products to the Russian Federation, including blocking access to App Store.”
The reason isn’t that Apple’s products are being used in Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian cities. It’s because Ukraine hopes that “such actions will motivate youth and active population of Russia to proactively stop the disgraceful military aggression.”
Taking away iPhones might not sound like an effective military strategy, but it might just work. The iPhone is the most popular smartphone in Russia, with a little over 25 percent of the market. Don’t underestimate the amount of pressure that puts on a country. It will be increasingly hard for Russia to fight in Ukraine if it has a fight on its hands at home.
It took Apple a few days, but the company has finally responded. On Tuesday, Tim Cook sent an email to employees explaining the company’s position, and what it was doing to both help its employees in the country, as well as respond to Russia’s actions. The email was first reported by The Verge, and Apple has publicly confirmed it will–temporarily, at least–stop selling its products in Russia.
We are working to support our teams in Ukraine and across the region. In Ukraine, we have been in contact with every employee, assisting them and their families in any way we can. For our Ukrainian team members located outside of the country that may need support, please contact [email redacted]. And for any employee who needs any support, please visit the People site for available resources.
As a company, we are taking additional actions as well. 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.
Cook had faced pushback for not responding more quickly. Compare the amount of time it took Apple to issue any kind of response to that of Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. When Fedorov sent a tweet asking Musk to provide Starlink satellite internet service and receivers to the country, Musk responded within hours. Two days later, Fedorov shared a photo of a truck full of Starlink receivers.
It may have taken Apple longer, but that shouldn’t diminish its action. There’s certainly a moral argument to be made–that Apple doesn’t want to profit off of a country that is actively thwarting democracy and senselessly attacking its neighbor. That’s probably part of it, but I think Federov’s point is the important one–that Apple is in a unique position to apply pressure. Apple can help Ukraine fight the battle on terms it can win.
Cook’s email highlights the power of technology companies to have a real impact by changing the way this battle is fought. I think Fedorov said it best in his open letter: “We need your support–in 2022, modern technology is perhaps the best answer to the tanks, multiple rocket launchers (hrad), and missiles.” We should all hope it works.