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. 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.
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.
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.