Last Friday, the White House tied a ribbon around a big lump of coal and delivered it to Crimea in the form of an executive order that institutes a comprehensive embargo against that region of Ukraine. The order prohibits all exports of goods and services to, and all imports of goods and services from, the Crimea region of Ukraine with the exception of agricultural commodities, medicine, medical supplies, and replacement parts as described in a General License issued at the same time. The Executive Order, however, raises more questions than it answers, leaving aside the obvious policy question of how imposing sanctions on the people of Crimea furthers any legitimate policy interests.
Notably absent from the order are any of the typical exceptions to sanctions regimes, such as the exception for personal communications over the Internet. As of the date of the Executive Order, it is now illegal for Google to provide Gmail to anyone in Crimea. Facebook can’t provide messaging services to and from Facebook members in Crimea. The problem, of course, is how Google or Facebook can determine where a user is located given that IP addresses assigned to Crimea will, in most instances probably, still indicate a location in Ukraine for obvious historical reasons.
This locational ambiguity exists not only in the virtual world of the Internet, but in the brick and mortar physical world as well. Suppose a merchant receives a mail order from Nikolai Gogol, 19 Haharina Street, Sudak, Russia. Do exporters have to look up every address in Russia before sending packages? (Sudak is a resort city in Crimea).
Finally, and not surprisingly, although the Crimea order was immediately effective, not everyone has received the message yet. One U.S. car company was happy to book me a car rental just a few moments ago at the Simferopol Airport in Crimea for mid-January. (I was offered a good rate too!) Needless to say, I did not push the confirm reservation button, so perhaps it was all a tease and I would have gotten the hook if I had actually let them charge my credit card.