The GSMA, which puts on the world’s largest annual mobile connectivity show (aka Mobile World Congress) has confirmed it will ban some Russian companies from exhibiting at the Barcelona-based conference which is due to kick off on Monday.
However, at the time of writing, the telco industry body is still intending to allow Russian presence at the show.
Russia’s participation at MWC is being partially restricted by the GSMA following the country’s invasion of Ukraine early yesterday morning.
At the time of writing, Russian tanks and armed forces are reported to be closing in on Ukraine’s capital Kiev — following earlier artillery bombardments hammering the country from air, land and sea.
A spokesman for the GSMA declined to specify whether all Russian companies, including carriers, would be banned from attending MWC — pointing to a statement reported earlier by Reuters in which it says there would be no Russian pavilion at this year’s event.
“The GSMA will continue to cooperate with international sanctions against Russia,” the spokesman added.
The full statement on the GSMA website reads:
“The GSMA strongly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The situation is fast-moving, and we understand that various governments are considering broader sanctions against Russia. In light of this emerging situation and considering the tragic loss of life, MWC seems immaterial under the circumstances. MWC is a unifying event with a vision to convene the mobile ecosystem to progress ways and means that connectivity can ensure people, industry, and society thrive.
“The GSMA follows all government sanctions and policies resulting from this situation. There will be no Russian Pavilion at MWC22. Security for the event is constantly reviewed and adjusted as information emerges.”
Typically MWC country pavilions showcase a number of smaller companies in close confines.
However larger exhibitors — including companies with Russian links, such as telco VimpelCom — may pay the GSMA to exclusively occupy a more prime chunk of real estate on the show floor.
And it appears the GSMA is not prepared to shut out these wealthier Russian companies unless sanctions force its hand.
The European Council’s Foreign Affairs Council is currently meeting to try to secure agreement on a second sanctions package targeting Russia — which the bloc’s president said yesterday would target strategic sectors of its economy, including access to “crucial” technologies.
“We want to cut off Russia’s industry from the technologies desperately needed today to build a future,” said Ursula von der Leyen. “Our measures will weaken Russia’s technological position in key areas, actually from which the elite makes most of their money. And this ranges from high-tech components to cutting-edge software. This will also seriously degrade the Russian economy in all areas in the future.”
In an interview with the Reuters news agency today, the GSMA’s CEO John Hoffman confirmed it currently has no plans to cancel or postpone MWC following the outbreak of war in Europe.
On sanctions Hoffman said “a handful, a few” Russian companies and their executives would be banned — but declined to provide names, saying sanctions lists were evolving.
“We are guided by the international sanctions and there are some companies that are identified on the sanction list and those will be barred from participating,” he added, saying the GSMA would strictly follow U.S. sanctions as well as others.
The US has already announced a package of sanctions that includes tough export curbs which it said would slash Russia’s access to global technologies.
Per Reuters, the controls announced by the U.S. Commerce Department rely on a dramatic expansion of the “Foreign Direct Product Rule” (FDPR) — and will force companies making high- and low-tech goods overseas with U.S. tools to seek a license from the U.S. before shipping to Russia.
However there are carveouts for consumer items such as household electronics, humanitarian goods, and also for technology necessary for flight safety.
Reuters also reports that consumer communications devices, such as mobile phones, are permitted under the sanctions as long as they are not sent to Russian government employees or certain affiliates.
Returning to MWC, the telco tradeshow has undoubtedly had a difficult run in recent years.
The conference was cancelled entirely in February 2020 following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.
While the 2021 edition was delayed until the summer, rather than taking up its usual early spring slot, as the pandemic lingered — with in-person attendance at the event was also drastically reduced vs pre-pandemic years.
As with MWC 2021, this year’s conference is being offered as a hybrid show, with both in-person and streamed sessions available.
The GSMA says it’s expecting more than 1,800 exhibitors and attendees from 183 countries at this year’s event.