Intel, Microsoft quietly make software available for downloads in Russia

Both Intel and Microsoft, American technology corporations, had loudly withdrawn from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. However, they have now restored the ability for Russian users to download drivers and operating system updates.

Intel’s website is still closed to users visiting from Russia. But, if those people can reach Intel’s download portal from a search engine, for example, they can use the site even if they are in Russia.

In other words, the front door is still closed but other entrances are now available – if users manage to find the correct URL.

Intel's download portal can be reached only from a search engine in Russia. Image by Cybernews.

Sources told Tom’s Hardware website that Intel, the chipmaker, restored access to the driver and support downloads portal late last year. Direct download is impossible, and users have to use the automatic download tool, Virtual Private Networks, or torrents.

Obviously, this is still a convenient backdoor that wasn’t available when the invasion started. Intel calls it a company guarantee, though: “Access to resources that meet driver update needs, such as the Intel Download Center and Intel Download Support Assistant, are part of Intel’s warranty obligations.”

In one way, that’s pretty fair, as it’s always better to let people download drivers from official sources rather than third-party ones where they could be infected with malware.

Yet it’s doubtful that the impact of sanctions on Russia is as strong now as it was intended – even if Intel insists it continues to comply with regulations. Besides, Russian citizens and companies are also able to obtain Intel’s products through “virtual storefronts” – catalogs and marketplaces.

This is part of the parallel imports mechanism, a roundabout way of buying stuff from gray importers and circumventing some trading restrictions that Russia has legalized. In essence, Russia now allows nearly anyone to resell products bought abroad.

Microsoft, very vocal about its support for Ukraine, is now also allowing some downloads to users in Russia, even though the country’s citizens and companies were prohibited from downloading Windows distributions, software updates, or security patches from its websites.

But now, Russian media say that some of these restrictions were lifted at the end of 2022, and updates for at least Windows 11 can be downloaded and installed by people in the country. This might mean Microsoft is now only banning sales of new products and services while making updates available again.

Intel and Microsoft pulled out of Russia following the invasion. Intel said it did so to comply with US export regulations that blocked the supply of semiconductors to Russia for specific reasons, including military applications.

A month into the war, Intel stopped all sales in Russia, and in April 2022, it temporarily halted all business operations in the country. At the time, Intel had 1,200 employees in Russia.

Microsoft also shut down its operations in Russia, laying off hundreds of employees following the invasion. The company has disbursed Ukraine’s digital infrastructure into the public cloud, hence supporting critical services through data centers across Europe.

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