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There have been quite a few articles online (such as this one) about the Russian government issuing fines to the Wikimedia foundation for not taking down Wikipedia pages on the war in Ukraine. These also mention that Wikimedia is fighting them in court. However, even if the fines go through, what can the Russian government do to enforce them, seeing as the Wikimedia Foundation is a donation-supported nonprofit not based in Russia?

There were some similar questions about enforcement of the GDPR on companies outside of the EU, and the answer seemed to be "at best, ask the company's home country to enforce the fines". However, I'm specifically interested in this case, as Wikimedia is actively fighting the fines when it could (IMO) just ignore them.

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    Wikimedia has a chapter in Russia but I have no idea if they are on the hook for these fines. Apr 14, 2023 at 20:06
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    Any chance of a different source? The Courant blocks European countries, probably because they don't want to follow GDPR.
    – James K
    Apr 15, 2023 at 6:33
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    @Polygorial I believe the answer to this is that a company that gets its revenue from advertising or membership fees will usually have to have some kind of presence in jurisdictions they operate in so they can accept money from local advertisers and users; a donation-supported one not necessarily.
    – wonderbear
    Apr 15, 2023 at 14:18
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    As far as I can tell from various Russian news reports (I speak the language), all the fines, including the 2023-04-13 one mentioned here, have been addressed to “Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.” (and this is supported by the English news report linked in the question). The Russian chapter is “Wikimedia RU”, so it seems that it is, indeed, the international HQ that is being targeted, not the local chapter. Disclaimers: I haven’t checked court proceedings; I don’t know whether the fine can somehow be transferred to the subsidiary; I’m not a lawyer in any jurisdiction.
    – Chortos-2
    Apr 17, 2023 at 14:56
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    @Chortos-2 My understanding is that local Wikimedia chapters are not "subsidiaries", they are basically fan clubs. They play no role in hosting the website, so should also not have legal responsibility (but who knows when it comes to non-democratic countries).
    – wonderbear
    Apr 17, 2023 at 15:22

3 Answers 3

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They can't.

Wikimedia is fighting the fines not because they think the fines can be easily enforced or they cannot afford them. It is not the same as a dispute between a driver and a police officer on what the traffic light signal was when the car crossed the road.

Wikimedia is fighting because it is part of their overall campaign for everyone to have access to the neutral, balanced, and sourced view of the world. This may sound very idealistic, but if they depart significantly from this concept that brought them up, they will lose contributors and donors all over the world.

Hence there is probably no option for them to censor the Wikipedia content exactly the way Russia requires ("only use official sources from the Russian Federation" or something of the like). They are using the defense opportunity to advertise one more time their genuine position on building neutral content.

The possibilities for Russia to bash the Wikimedia Foundation inside their own territory are endless, but very unlikely to expand anywhere outside. Why not to attempt to fine The Guardian or the New York Times with the same success. Wikimedia Foundation officially resides in San Francisco, USA.

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    I understand that editing the pages so that the Russian govt. is happy with them is not really an option, I'm more confused about them not just ignoring the fines. I imagine that fighting them in court is not free, and the chances that their appeal will succeed are basically nil. Or are you saying that they are appealing specifically to highlight to their western contributors that they will not be censored? So essentially a publicity stunt?
    – Tomeamis
    Apr 14, 2023 at 11:06
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    How does this answer the question of how Russia can enforce the fines? Based on what I am reading I don't see that part of the question addressed.
    – Joe W
    Apr 14, 2023 at 22:41
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    @JoeW The answer implies "they can't", but doesn't actually state it. It could do with an edit to make that clearer.
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 14, 2023 at 23:19
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    – JJJ
    Apr 15, 2023 at 18:56
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I imagine that Wikimedia Foundation will face increasingly severe issues when operating in Russian legal space; such as, if they have to pay for something, allocate money to Russian residents (such as grants, bonuses or reimbursements), these money transfers may be confiscated and diverted towards fines.

They may also have issues when raising money in Russia, which may be insignificant at the moment, but previously Wikimedia were raising funds in Russia via "Jimmy Wales sad face", I imagine they were collecting a non-trivial sum.

In the age of the Internet the presense on the ground may be insignificant but it will likely be non-zero.

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    In 2012, Russian Federation used to be at somewhat 10th place in the world by donations to Wikimedia, quora.com/…. I cannot find the current status.
    – Stančikas
    Apr 14, 2023 at 13:38
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    @Stančikas: given credit card etc. issues that Russians face for foreign transactions, I suspect that's already an issue. Apr 14, 2023 at 20:01
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I think you are absolutely right. Russia has no enforcement mechanism against a foreign organization. The only possible enforcement mechanism Russia has is prohibiting Wikimedia from operating in Russia. Russia could also pressure its allies to do the same in an attempt to back Wikimedia into a corner.

Russia is allied with Brazil, India, China, and South Africa under the BRICS alliance. All of which, except for China, allow Wikimedia to operate offices in their countries.

This could become problematic for Wikimedia depending on how much these countries contribute to Wikimedia.

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  • What allies? They don't seem to have any left... Apr 17, 2023 at 9:41
  • @ScottishTapWater Nobody else seems keen to send troops to fight for Russia in Ukraine, but several countries e.g. Belarus, Syria, Iran, North Korea are still extending various forms of logistic, materiel, economic, and political support. Even among Russia's rivals, there are probably some who'd find common cause in harming Wikimedia. Apr 17, 2023 at 10:06
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    I'm not sure any of them could have any meaningful impact on them either though Apr 17, 2023 at 10:11

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