While governments around the world are racing to place restrictions on TikTok over perceived espionage and security concerns, Kremlin leaders in Moscow have their sights set on another target: smartphones. The officials, according to Russian newspaper Kommersant, have advised staff involved with President Vladimir Putin’s 2024 presidential re-election campaign to ditch iPhones — any U.S.-made phone, really — in favour of more “secure” alternatives over fears of potential interference from Western intelligence agencies. Russian officials speaking with The Moscow Times, however, appeared to broaden the device’s scope beyond Apple.
“Whatever they are, there is no difference,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reportedly said. “Any smartphone is quite a transparent mechanism, no matter what operating system, Android or iOS. Naturally, they are not used for official purpose.” Putin himself has publicly proclaimed to avoid smartphones for years.
Russian officials were instructed to give up on implicated devices by April 1 and were told the administration may pay for replacement devices. The order reportedly came from Putin’s Deputy Chief of Staff Sergei Kiriyenko during a seminar held earlier this month. Exactly what types of brand fall under the new ban remain somewhat unclear. An unnamed source quoted in the Kommersant report suggested the ban was directly narrowly towards Apple products, with officials instructed to opt instead for either Chinese-made phones or, in a pinch, non-Apple devices running the Android operating system.
The Kremlin and Apple did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Russia embraced even more Chinese tech following Ukraine invasion
Banning diplomats’ smartphones wouldn’t be the first time Moscow officials took a stance against foreign technology firms. Earlier this year the government passed a new law restricting government officials’ use of nine foreign instant messaging apps including Discord, WeChat, Microsoft Teams, Telegram, and WhatsApp. Prior to that, officials warned they would consider banning Zoom if the California-based video conferencing firm moved forward with its effort to block the service from Russian government agencies. Russia’s top internet regulator Rozkomnadzor similarly banned most Meta products in the country last year due to the company’s stance on the war in Ukraine, labelling the company an “extremist organisation” on par with ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
Tensions over Russia’s use of foreign phone makers specifically presented themselves during the early months of Russia’s war in Ukraine after Apple, Samsung, Dell, and others suspended sales of devices in the country in protest of the invasion. That sudden exodus left a wide opening for already popular Chinese phone makers to fill. By December 2022, according to Counterpoint Research data cited by CNN, Chinese phone manufacturers like Huawei and Xiaomi accounted for 95% of Russia’s smartphone market, up from 40% just one year prior.
“It’s a huge opening,” said Tarun Pathak, an analyst at Counterpoint analyst Tarun Pathak said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We see things getting a bit tough.”