TikTok, Netflix, American Express suspend operations in Russia, Belarus

A number of companies and services have ceased operations in Russia and Belarus in recent days.

 The logo of Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index listed company American Express (AXP) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 25, 2016 (photo credit: LUCY NICHOLSON / REUTERS)
The logo of Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index listed company American Express (AXP) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States, April 25, 2016
(photo credit: LUCY NICHOLSON / REUTERS)

Streaming service Netflix announced it is stopping its services in Russia hours after American Express announced on Sunday that it was suspending operations in Russia and Belarus, as a number of other services and companies announced they were ceasing operations in the two countries.

AmEx cards issued abroad will no longer work at merchants or ATMs in Russia and cards issued in Russia will no longer work outside of the country on the American Express global network.

"Over the past few weeks, we have been working hard to back our colleagues and customers in these countries," said American Express in a press release.

"While this decision will have an impact on them, we will continue to do what we can to support them. One of our company values is to 'Do What is Right.' This principle has guided us throughout this difficult crisis and will continue to do so, as we stand by our colleagues, customers, and the international community in hoping for a peaceful resolution to this crisis."

The move comes after Visa and Mastercard announced that they were suspending work in Russia on Saturday night due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, fulfilling a request made earlier by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

 Boards with Tommy Hilfiger store logo are seen on a shopping center at the outlet village Belaya Dacha outside Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2016 (credit: GRIGORY DUKOR / REUTERS) Boards with Tommy Hilfiger store logo are seen on a shopping center at the outlet village Belaya Dacha outside Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2016 (credit: GRIGORY DUKOR / REUTERS)

PVH Corp., which includes chains such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Warner's, decided on Sunday to close its stores and pause all commercial activities in Russia and Belarus as of March 7th. All associates will continue to receive their salary and benefits.

"Throughout the last 10 days, PVH’s first concern has been for all people suffering due to the war in Ukraine and escalating humanitarian crisis," said PVH Corp. in an Instagram post. "We remain focused on and committed to providing all impacted associates and their loved ones with comprehensive financial, operational and moral support. We also remain in close contact with our business partners in Ukraine who are highly focused on supporting their employees."

TikTok announced on Sunday that it was suspending live streaming and the posting of new content to the service in Russia due to the country's new "fake news" law.

"TikTok is an outlet for creativity and entertainment that can provide a source of relief and human connection during a time of war when people are facing immense tragedy and isolation," said TikTok in a press statement.

"However, our highest priority is the safety of our employees and our users, and in light of Russia's new ‘fake news’ law, we have no choice but to suspend live streaming and new content to our video service in Russia while we review the safety implications of this law."

"We will continue to evaluate the evolving circumstances in Russia to determine when we might fully resume our services with safety as our top priority," said the social network.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) announced early Sunday morning that it is suspending operations in Russia after local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against the news agency's Russian entity and authorities intensified pressure against independent media.

The news agency stated that a years-long pressure campaign has targeted RFE/RL. The news agency opened its Moscow bureau in 1992 at the invitation of then-president Boris Yeltsin.

The bankruptcy proceedings come after Russia's media regulator Roskomnadzor issued 1,040 violations against RFE/RL because the news agency failed to accompany all of its Russian-language content with a state-mandated warning that the agency is a "foreign agent." The violations have resulted in fines of over $13.4 million.

On Saturday, Russia's communications watchdog restricted access to RFE/RL and several other foreign news organizations' websites for spreading what it called false information. A law recently signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin imposes a jail term of up to 15 years for people who intentionally spread "fake" information about Russia's armed forces.

“It is with the deepest regret that I announce the suspension of our physical operations in Moscow today," said RFE/RL President & CEO Jamie Fly. "This is not a decision that RFE/RL has taken of its own accord, but one that has been forced upon us by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth."

"Following years of threats, intimidation and harassment of our journalists, the Kremlin, desperate to prevent Russian citizens from knowing the truth about its illegal war in Ukraine, is now branding honest journalists as traitors to the Russian state," added Fly.

"We will continue to expand our reporting for Russian audiences and will use every platform possible to reach them at a time when they need our journalism more than ever. Despite this bleak moment, we know from our organization’s 70-year history that one day, perhaps sooner than many think, we will be able to reopen a bureau in Russia. Time is on the side of liberty, even in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

Britain will seek to speed up its sanctions process on Monday via new legislation designed to allow ministers to tighten restrictions on Russian businesses and wealthy individuals.

The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill is being pushed through parliament next week as Britain tries to punish those with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to his invasion of Ukraine.

"Punishing sanctions are meaningless until properly implemented, and these changes will allow us to pursue Putin's allies in the UK with the full backing of the law, beyond doubt or legal challenge," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

Britain has already sanctioned some individuals, banks and companies, but has been criticized by campaigners and opposition politicians who say it has moved too slowly to crack down on Russian oligarchs and companies.

Among the technical changes to the draft legislation is the creation of a legal power to sanction individuals or companies already placed under sanctions by allies such as the European Union, United States and Canada.