Shady Russian cell phone companies are growing in Ukraine
This, says MacDad, suggests that the Russian army expects to occupy the areas for some time. ,[In] In contested areas, you don’t usually have two or three new operators in one place,” McDade says. “I would also say, it’s a sign that they expect to be there for some time. McDade says the networks may also have been built for Russian soldiers to use.
Since the companies emerged earlier this year, they have claimed to have expanded their services. Their website lists dozens of claimed locations, including shops, where people can buy SIM cards and Internet access. In an online post, 7Telecom says that it is hiring a hiring manager, office administrator, sales manager and IT specialist to work in the Kherson region.
It is unclear how popular the networks are. Maps showing areas receiving cell phone signals cannot be verified, nor can Russian media claim that 7Telecom has more than 100,000 subscribers. A Gmail account linked to MirTelecom and 7Telecom’s Kherson recruitment efforts did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment. A few sporadic online posts are showing posters or advertising flyers for companies, but it’s not clear how widespread they are. 7Telecom has the greater social media presence of both, with its account on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, with about 8,600 followers. While there are unofficial Telegram channels for both companies, linked to a firm that allows people to top up SIM cards, each has only a few dozen customers. (Though that hasn’t stopped people from complaining about bad connections.)
While the scale of their presence is uncertain, both MirTelecom and 7Telecom have some links to existing mobile companies, which were formed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and have become part of its long-term occupation in the region. “The main Russian operators are not operating a commercial presence in this part, and this is exactly what they did in Crimea,” says McDade. In the Crimea and the Donbass, the Russian military created new Internet providers. In recent months, MacDad says, existing Russian mobile providers in the Donbass have updated their coverage maps claiming that new regions of Ukraine fall under their service.
Analysis shared with WIRED, which Mc Daid is scheduled to present at a conference later this month, shows MirTelecom and 7Telecom are joined by Crimean mobile companies KrymTelecom and K-Telecom, respectively. Details posted publicly by MirTelecom and reporting by Russian media also show some of the links. (Neither KrymTelecom nor K-Telecom responded to requests for comment.)