For the past few weeks, the mainstream media have been plastered with news about ChatGPT – a chatbot developed by the Silicon Valley company OpenAI which recently received a $10 billion investment from Microsoft. Will Microsoft revolutionize its Bing search with ChatGPT? How did Google lose $100 million with its mishap on its new AI chatbot? Will ChatGPT change education? Will ChatGPT affect the future of work? We’re sure that an AI chatbot is worthy of the corporate media’s close probing, but amidst plenty of media coverage on technology, there is a deprivation of critical analysis on the tech industry’s involvement in the current war between Ukraine and Russia resulting in the killing of thousands of people on both sides NOW – not in some version of the future. We insist this requires a series of probing questions and elaboration.

A few months after the war broke out, the US and its allies imposed economic sanctions against Russia.[1] Company after company loudly publicized that they were withdrawing their businesses from Russia; though after a year of the war, hundreds of the US and European companies, including Pfizer, BP, and Renault, are still doing business in Russia according to a recent NY Times report.[2]

By March 2022, the major tech companies were also joining this drive. Apple stopped selling new products and paused its Apple payment services; Amazon suspended shipments of its retail products and new clients for its cloud services in Russia and Belarus. Google’s Russian subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in Russia and suspended ads in Russia on Google’s internet properties including YouTube. Microsoft announced that the company was also suspending new sales in Russia.

Despite their public declarations, it is not clear to what extent the US tech industry has actually pulled their businesses from Russia; however, one still wonders what has driven this unusually prompt rhetoric of withdrawal? According to the tech companies, they were responding to an unlawful invasion and a humanitarian disaster. This line of reasoning is inconsistent with the tech companies’ previous behavior, as they are doing or have done plenty of business in countries with repressive regimes around the globe and have ignored other humanitarian disasters.[3]

The tech companies’ exit from Russia came as a result of governmental edicts. The question then is, what has moved these companies to comply with the US state’s current geopolitical ambitions? What is the basis of the interlock? The complete answers to these questions are multi-faceted because we need to consider the tech giants’ long relationship with the Democratic party; their interests in domestic and governmental markets; their involvements in US foreign policy; and their leaders’ class interests – all of which are intricately intertwined.  Further explication of these questions will occupy multiple posts. However, for this piece, we’re calling attention to one of the apparent reasons for the tech companies’ swift withdrawal announcements from Russia.

On 16 September 2022, Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and current Chair of the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence – who has also been newly appointed to serve on the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology – visited Ukraine and met with Ukrainian government officials. Soon after his trip, Schmidt gave a talk at the Cyber Media Forum at Georgetown University.[4]  He remarked that he was interested in knowing what the tech industry did to help the war (not peace!).

Sharing his observations from the trip, Schmidt said that the Ukraine government changed a law that had prevented government data from being stored in the cloud – so they could move all their government data to cloud services. Though he didn’t reveal which cloud services the Ukraine government would be relying on, one would not have to work hard to guess. He continued:

Elon Musk is genuinely a hero here, Elon based on just a verbal statement, was willing to authorize a large number of Starlinks[5] into the country. I won’t say their names, but other entrepreneurs, other donors, gave Ukraine a great deal of money that ultimately resulted in what I was told was about 20,000 Starlinks in Ukraine itself. This allowed the strategy of shutting down the internet by the opposition to fail.[6]

One of Schmidt’s unidentified donors was the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Elon Musk’s initial zeal to supply SpaceX’s Starlink internet routers fizzled; he asserted that it was too costly for the company and asked for Pentagon funding.[7] According to a Washington Post article, Space X donated 3,670 terminals and USAID ponied up part of the bill by purchasing  over 1,330 terminals from SpaceX and sending them to Ukraine.[8]  To be sure, this is only a fraction of the $113 billion in aid and military assistance to Ukraine[9] – or even of the $67 billion that was allocated for military aid.

Schmidt – who has been a staunch advocate of US digital war-making and of AI innovation to beat China, and who holds investments in AI start-ups for the defense industry[10] – stressed that Ukraine is a valuable case-study of the success of a networked war; indeed, he signaled investors and entrepreneurs to come to Ukraine and get on board with digital militarism.[11] If his signal was too subtle, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s message was made loud and clear. On 23 January of this year, he made a speech to a US corporate lobby group, the National Association of State Chambers about rebuilding Ukraine after defeating Russia. Zelenskyy spoke about his plan and said,[12]

… when we’ll be able to end this war by throwing out the occupiers – in the same manner together we’ll be able to start the difficult work of rebuilding Ukraine – our cities, our economy, our infrastructure.

…It is already clear that this will be the largest economic project of our time in Europe. It is obvious that American business can become the locomotive that will once again push forward global economic growth.

President Zelenskyy proudly affirmed that global financial companies like Black Rock, J.P. Morgan, and Goldman Sachs, as well as defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, have already set up shop in Ukraine – and so have the tech giants. In fact, in May 2022, Google received the Ukrainian “Peace” Prize presented by Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov in Davos, where the world’s billionaires meet to talk about the global economy.[13] Google was the first company to be awarded the prize, but not the last. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft and Amazon were also awarded the same prize.[14]

If peace means no war, a peace prize can’t be given to anyone that supports war. This prize was not for peace-making but was instead given for joining in war-profiteering. In turn, the tech companies’ declaration of their withdrawal from Russia did not involve striving for any lofty ideal; rather, it was a shallow, self-interested strategy to march headlong into the business of war.

[1] U.S. Department of The Treasury, “Ukraine-/Russia-related Sanctions,”

[2] Liz Alderman, “Leave Russia? A Year Later Many Companies Can’t, or Won’t” New York Times, March 2, 2023,

[3] See Who’s Behind ICE?, and see Amazon Web Services and Google signed a $1.2 billion contract to provide cloud services to the Israeli government and its military. This technology is used to facilitate the expansion of illegal occupation of Palestine. See Ramzy Baroud, “Billion-dollar deal partners Google and Amazon in Israeli occupation of Palestine” People’s World, March 28, 2022,

[4] The First Networked War: Eric Schmidt’s Ukraine Trip Report, Special Competitive Studies Project, September 13, 2022.

[5] StarLink is a satellite internet operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Space X sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine to connect to the satellite internet.

[6] The First Networked War: Eric Schmidt’s Ukraine Trip Report, Special Competitive Studies Project, September 13, 2022.

[7] Richard Waters and Felicia Schwartz, “Pentagon in talks to fund Ukrainian troop access to Musk’s Starlink,Financial Times, October 14, 2022.

[8] Cristiano Lima, “U.S. quietly paying millions to send Starlink terminals to Ukraine, contrary to SpaceX claims,” Washington Post, April 8, 2022.

[9]Congress Approved $113 Billion of Aid to Ukraine in 2022,” Committee for Responsible Federal Budget, January 5, 2023.

[10] Kate Conger and Cade Metz, “‘I Could Solve Most of Your Problems’: Eric Schmidt’s Pentagon Offensive,” New York Times, May 2, 2021.

[11]The First Networked War: Eric Schmidt’s Ukraine Trip Report,” 2-2-2 newsletter, September 13, 2022.

[12] President of Ukraine’s address to the participants of the meeting of the National Association of State Chambers, January 23, 2022.

[13]Google Was the First to Receive “Peace Prize” From Ukraine,” Tech Ukraine, May 25, 2022.

[14] Simon Sharwood, “Microsoft, AWS awarded Ukraine peace prize for cloudy services,” Register, July 7, 2022.

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