Russia threatens to block Wikipedia over Ukraine invasion article

Its communications regulator cited 'illegally distributed information' about casualty figures.

DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Editors at the Russian version of Wikipedia say the country's communications regulator has threatened to block the site. They shared a notice from Roskomnadzor, which claimed a page about the Ukraine invasion includes "illegally distributed information," such as the number of Russian military casualties and those of Ukrainian civilians and children, according to Reuters.

The regulator demanded that editors remove that information from the article, which is called "Russian invasion of Ukraine (2022)." Roskomnadzor said that if editors don't comply, it will block all of Wikipedia in Russia. Currently, new and unregistered users aren't able to edit the article in order to protect it from vandalism.

The article includes casualty estimates from both the Ukrainian and Russian governments, as Motherboard notes. As of Tuesday, it included claims from Ukraine that 352 civilians and more than 110 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, while 1,684 civilians had been wounded. The country said Russia had sustained 5,710 Russian military casualties. Russia, however, claimed two of its soldiers and 200 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed.

Editors of Wikipedia's Russian site may add more sources for the information, but one told Motherboard they likely won't respond to the threat otherwise. Roskomnadzor has issued several other warnings to the site over the years.

"The invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the senseless loss of life and has also been accompanied by information warfare online," the Wikimedia Foundation said on Tuesday. "The spread of disinformation about the ongoing crisis affects the safety of people who depend on facts to make life-and-death decisions and interferes with everyone’s right to access open knowledge."

It added that it's "working with affected communities to identify potential threats to information on Wikimedia projects, and supporting volunteer editors and administrators who serve as a first line of defense against manipulation of facts and knowledge."

Since the start of the invasion, Russian regulators have restricted access to Twitter and Facebook. They have also demanded that tech companies remove restrictions on state media channels. Facebook, YouTube and TikTok all blocked RT and Sputnik in Europe. Twitter has placed labels on tweets from Russian state media outlets.

Meanwhile, the former head of Yandex's news operations has accused the Russian search giant of censoring information about the invasion. In a note to his former colleagues posted on Facebook, Lev Gershenzon urged them to "stop being accomplices to a terrible crime" and, if they were unable to do anything else to change things, to quit.