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Get out or face our wrath, Anonymous tells big firms in Russia

The hacktivist group has drawn return fire in its latest scattergun approach to targeting firms still doing business in Russia, after it used Twitter to urge more than 30 multinationals to pull out immediately – or face consequences.

Anonymous tweeted the message: “We call on all companies that continue to operate in Russia by paying taxes to the budget of the Kremlin's criminal regime – pull out of Russia! We give you 48 hours to reflect and withdraw or else you will be under [sic] our target!”

Accompanying the exhortation was a graphic depicting the logos of dozens of big corporations, including Burger King, Citrix, Nestle, and Subway.

Of these, Nestle – a global manufacturer of food and drink – seems to have drawn the most ire from the hacktivist group, which devoted a separate tweet to the corporation.

“Nestle, as the death toll climbs, you have been warned and now breached,” it said. “Anonymous is holding you responsible for the murder of defenseless children and mothers.”

It is not clear whether Anonymous has yet actually succeeded in breaching Nestle’s cyber defenses, or if the claim is simply intended to leverage its threat to do so.

This is not the first time the Swiss multinational has come under fire for refusing calls to withdraw from a sanctioned country. In the 1980s, Nestle courted controversy for continuing to operate in Apartheid-era South Africa, despite worldwide condemnation at the time of the racist regime.

Has Anonymous gone too far?

But, Nestle aside, there was immediately some pushback on Twitter against Anonymous’ latest social media salvo. Other tweeters are claiming that some of the companies named and shamed have either withdrawn from Russia or cannot because of franchising arrangements that leave them powerless to close down their operations there.

One user reposted an earlier Tweet from March 14 by Citrix, in which the cloud computing firm stated: “Citrix complies with all applicable international sanctions and government regulations [and] has suspended sales and support to Russia and Belarus-based organizations.”

“Otis, Bridgestone and Citi[group] have already left Russia,” claimed another user. “Burger King and Subway can't do that because in Russia they operate under a franchise.”

Not all tweeters were so ready to let big firms still in Russia off the hook, however. “Corporate offices of Burger King and Subway can stop supplying franchises with products,” said another user. “It's just that simple.”

Who to believe?

On closer inspection, both those speaking out in defense of companies listed by Anonymous and the naysayers appear to have a point.

While elevator manufacturer Otis has declared it will cease taking new orders from Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine, it also said it would continue to honor existing agreements to supply essential maintenance.

Bridgestone has stated that as of March 18 it has suspended exports, manufacturing operations and new business regarding Russia until further notice.

Citigroup has said it will accelerate its wind-down of operations in Russia, already begun last year, but as with Otis does not appear to have plans to cease doing business there altogether. It has also admitted that any withdrawal will take time to execute.

“We will continue to manage our existing regulatory commitments and our obligations to depositors, as well as support all of our [3,000 Russian-based] employees,” the bank said in a statement earlier this month.

As for Burger King, its order to shut down its 800 outlets in Russia was refused by the local operator, with Subway pleading similar obstacles in the face of growing calls for a boycott of its products.

Other multinationals named by Anonymous in its Twitter post graphic include Halliburton, Koch, Marriott and Cloudflare.

Evidence of the hacktivist group’s spread-shot approach to naming and shaming companies is further emphasized by their differing track records. While the former company has been accused of war profiteering in Iraq to the tune of nearly $40bn, the latter is seen by some as essential to Russians fighting censorship in their own country.

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