Microsoft stops offering Windows downloads to Russian users

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Russia’s cultural, economic and technological isolation deepened today as Microsoft began restricting access to Windows downloads for residents of the pariah state.

Attempting to download a Windows 10 or Windows 11 ISO file from a Russian IP address will return an ambiguous error message stating: “There was a problem with your request”.

Microsoft has also restricted access to its automated installation wizards. Attempts to download the Windows 10 Update Assistant, Windows 11 Setup Assistant, and Windows 10 Media Creation Tool all return a 404 error code.

Error code 404 roughly translates to “file not found”. It usually indicates that there is a broken link or that a file is only available to logged in users.

As noted beeping computer, the Windows 11 Media Creation Tool is still available, although it refuses to run on Russian-based machines. When executed, it returns a code 0x80072F8F-0x20000, along with an encrypted error message stating: “For some unknown reason, this tool could not run on your computer”.

Microsoft’s Response to the Ukraine War

Image: KnowTechie

At press time, Microsoft had yet to comment on the issue. This seems deliberate, however, with third-party posts confirming its existence using Russian VPNs.

It should be noted that Microsoft suspended new sales of hardware, software, and services to the Russian Federation on March 4, 2022.

Microsoft is one of many tech companies to exit the Russian market after its unwarranted invasion of Ukraine. Other companies include Apple, Samsung, Nokia and IBM.

Despite this, downloading a Windows installer file does not necessarily result in a new sale. It’s entirely plausible that the downloader simply wanted to reinstall their operating system to start fresh. Reinstalling Windows frequently resolves technical issues with no other obvious solution.

It would be easy for Microsoft to verify. OEMs typically store the Windows license key in the machine’s UEFI firmware. If you’ve ever wondered why computers no longer come with printed license key stickers like they did back in the days of Windows 98 and XP, this is why.

Russia legalizes piracy

Russia has responded to the growing international sanctions burden by effectively legitimizing piracy.

New rules approved by the Federal Duma in early March have allowed Russian companies to use intellectual property from “hostile countries” without first obtaining a license or paying associated licensing fees.

The Russian government maintains a list of “hostile countries”. It includes all NATO and EU member states, plus Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

Russia’s Economic Development Ministry said effectively legalizing piracy would allow the country to bear the burden of international sanctions and ensure viable supply chains.

In practice, this move is little more than clumsily applying a bandage to a gaping chest wound. The country’s decision to break with established intellectual property rules may frustrate Hollywood movie studios and Silicon Valley tech companies, but won’t solve the fundamental problems at the heart of Russia’s economy.

Russia’s Supply Chain Problems

semiconductor on table
Image: Unsplash

Software, by its very nature, is ephemeral. It crosses borders without hindrance or hindrance. In its purest form, it exists as beams of light passing through fiber optic cables.

The semiconductors, computer hardware and other vital components used in heavy manufacturing are obviously different. And while international sanctions have largely failed to produce a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, they have proven shockingly effective in hampering Russia’s manufacturing sector.

The proof of this can be found at the macroeconomic level. Although Russia is running a massive trade surplus, this is not good news.

It reveals an inability to import foreign goods. The threat of secondary sanctions has even intimidated Chinese companies into limiting their exposure to the Russian market, with Xiaomi and Lenovo quietly scaling back operations.

Plus, if you want a more vivid – if not amusing – example of the power of tech sanctions, just look at the “new” Lada Granta Classic car.

Russian car in 2022
Picture: Carscoops

I deliberately put “new” in quotes for a very good reason. It lacks many features that you would consider standard in a 2022 model vehicle: including air conditioning, passenger-side airbags and anti-lock braking.

Despite boasting a ridiculously underpowered 90-hp 1.6L four-cylinder engine, it doesn’t even meet 1996’s dismal air quality standards.

In short: it’s a car that belongs to an era best forgotten. It serves as an apt metaphor for the leadership of Russia under Vladimir Putin.

All post-glasnost and perestroika advances – whether technological, economic, or simply civil liberties – have been aggressively (and perhaps irreversibly) reversed.

The search for a Russian alternative to Windows

Sanctions are not new to the Putin regime. And Russia has tried to wean itself off foreign – and especially Western – technology.

Like China, North Korea, and Cuba, it maintains a local Linux distribution. Aimed at government and military users, Astra Linux is available for mobile, desktop, server, and mainframe environments.

Russia also maintains an Android alternative based on the Sailfish platform called Aurora OS. In 2015, the Russian government expressed a desire to achieve a 50% market share by 2025.

Despite this ambition, Android and iOS still dominate the Russian market. The same is true, by the way, for Windows. Whether Russia’s isolation is changing is anyone’s guess.

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Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food and storytelling. Past work can be found on The Register, Forbes, The Next Web and Business Insider.

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