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To give an example:

One of the more well known currently disputed territories is Crimea. As telecommunication services, and users of such, do continue to operate from that territory under the aegis of a Russian persona, (like a Crimean based website using a .ru domain or personal and business phones in Crimea using a Russian country code), does acceptance of such communication imply recognizing the territory as part of Russia?

To me it seems a bit tricky because in the ordinary sense the answer would be of course. It would be silly to accept a phone call, carry on a conversation, then refuse to accept the first few digits of the phone number.

If this norm holds then the communication operators and their receivers are recognizing identifying claims. However, in this case that would mean accepting that Crimea is no longer part of Ukraine. And governments are receivers of communication too.

(There does not seem to exist technical means to block the propogation of such communication. And it also may not even be possible, for internet companies specifically, to refuse recognition of any technically valid domain without jeopardizing their interconnections.)

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    Taiwan has a domain, phone prefix, a government, an Olympic Committee, an army, a navy, an air force, and hundreds of other things, yet is not recognized by anybody, even though it is treated the same as almost any other recognized country. OTOH, North Korea is recognized by everybody, but treated very different from almost any other country. Recognition really does not mean much other than a political gesture to boost national pride. – Jörg W Mittag Apr 17 at 9:36
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    Note that ICANN, IANA, and the IETF make it very clear that the fact that a ccTLD exists makes no statement about the legitimacy of that country. In fact, they punt the decision to the UN statistics bureau. The UN statistics bureau, in turn, also makes it very clear that the fact that a certain region gets a two-letter code assigned only means that this particular region is interesting enough for statistical purposes to warrant a separate code … no more, no less. – Jörg W Mittag Apr 17 at 9:41
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    "then refuse to accept the first few digits of the phone number" - accepting the fact that you are being called from a certain number (i.e. accepting reality as it is), and also calling or receiving calls from such numbers, has very little to do with agreeing with the reasons people chose to make the number what it is. – NotThatGuy Apr 17 at 16:56
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    @JörgWMittag, Taiwan is an unusual case: almost everyone maintains the pretense that Taiwan is part of a unified China, and the dispute is merely a question of whether the legitimate government is the one in Beijing, or the one in Taipei. – Mark Apr 17 at 19:51
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    DNS resolving internet domain names into IP addresses is not an official government business. It's done by private interests. Its use signifies absolutely nothing. According to Wikipedia, 100,000 '.su' domains still exist. This is despite the fact that the Soviet Union does not, so to speak, recognize Soviet Union. USSR was officially dissolved by a proclamation of the Supreme Soviet on December 26th, 1991. IF YOU WANT A MORE SERIOUS ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, you may want to ask it about physical mail and packages addressed to/from places in Crimea. – grovkin Apr 17 at 23:15
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Your question conflates "recognizing the existence of a territory/organization/state" and "recognizing the geographical boundaries of a territory/organization/state."

Your example is "a Crimean based website using a .ru domain." I don't see any difference between "a Crimean based website using a .ru domain" and, say, "a U.S.-based website using an .io domain" (like, e.g., my blog hosted on github.io). I live in the U.S. and maintain a website in the .io domain; that doesn't even remotely suggest that the U.S. is physically part of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

You also seem to be worried about some sort of magic-words trap where someone could say "Aha, you visited www.unitedstates.io, therefore you are legally bound to recognize that the United States is part of the Indian Ocean Territory!"

Likewise, if certain people located physically in Crimea happen to run websites under .ru, that doesn't mean that Crimea is physically part of Russia; and if you happen to visit www.crimea.ru, that doesn't imply any kind of legal agreement that Crimea is (or is not) part of Russia.


Getting back to the conflation... There is definitely more of an argument to be made that the existence of the .ru TLD implies that someone, somewhere, recognizes the existence of Russia. However, as Jörg W Mittag pointed out in the comments, domain-name TLDs are more or less based on the two-letter abbreviations maintained by the U.N.'s Statistics Division, and the U.N.'s Statistics Division very clearly states:

The designations employed and the presentation of material at this site do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.


This doesn't directly address your concerns about phone-number country codes, but I can't imagine any reason for the logic and rationales re: phone numbers to "work" any differently from the logic and rationales expressed above re: TLDs.


UPDATE: @MichaelZ, from your comments below, I surmise that you don't really get how DNS works. When you direct your browser to (let's say) www.crimea.ru, all that happens is that your computer looks up that name in a big distributed "phone book," starting at the top ("at the root") and then descending: you ask the root "What's the IP address of www.crimea.ru?" and the root says "I don't know, but on the subject of .ru domains, I trust a.dns.ripn.net, whose IP address is 193.232.128.6." So then your computer asks 193.232.128.6 "What's the IP address of www.crimea.ru?" and 193.232.128.6 says "I don't know, but on the subject of .crimea.ru domains, I trust ns1.ht-systems.ru, whose IP address is 78.110.50.60." So then your computer asks 78.110.50.60 "What's the IP address of www.crimea.ru?" and 78.110.50.60 says "Oh, that's 78.110.50.130." So then your computer sends an HTTP GET request (or whatever you're interested in doing) to 78.110.50.130. If it's HTTP or HTTPS, it'll also send some header data that basically says "Hello 78.110.50.130! A little bird told me you were www.crimea.ru; is that right?"

There's a lower level, "IP" (Internet Protocol), that handles the routing of packets to these various IP addresses. In a sense, the Internet Protocol "recognizes" the relationship between certain IP blocks and certain geographical regions of the Earth. However, it does not recognize political boundaries; there's no concept of an IP address saying "I am Russian" in the same way that a domain name could say "I am Russian (.ru)." (And, again, a domain name can "say" it's Russian only in the same sense that it can "say" it's the Indian Ocean; that doesn't necessarily have any bearing on geographical reality.)

Anyway, does this help clarify why none of this technology stuff has any bearing on geographical or political boundaries?

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  • Thanks for the reference. This seems to imply that TLDs are abitrary, yet many TLDs do require some form of legal verification relating to citizenship, residency, etc., for registration. For example to operate a .ca domain name requires proof that the registrant is physically within Canada or is a Canadian citizen, as far as I understand it. The obvious justification of .ca belonging to Canada, and for many other cases, wouldn’t work if TLDs aren’t supposed to rely on that. – MichaelZ Apr 17 at 23:21
  • @MichaelZ: Suppose that Canada decided to let Americans buy .ca domains. Canada has an absolute and unilateral right to do that; the .ca TLD is entirely under their legal control, and many other countries do allow foreigners to purchase such domains in their respective ccTLDs (indeed, domain registration fees are said to constitute 10% of the GDP of Tuvalu!). But it would not, in any sense, constitute a claim of sovereignty over America, much less an exercise of such purported sovereignty. – Kevin Apr 17 at 23:29
  • @Kevin I was thinking of it from the opposite direction. How could any country’s government claim complete control, and make binding decisions, over any given TLD? If they don’t necessarily belong to any given territory or its representatives... – MichaelZ Apr 17 at 23:31
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    @MichaelZ: Well, that's a different question from the one you asked. Nobody seriously denies that Russia as a whole exists, and IANA (the non-profit which establishes ccTLDs in the first place) doesn't care about the extent of Russia's territory, only about who actually gets to administer .ru. In other words, IANA doesn't care who owns Crimea; they care about who owns Russia as a whole, regardless of what its precise boundaries look like. Obviously this is harder with a territory like Taiwan, where there's disagreement over whether a "country" even exists, but Crimea is not like that. – Kevin Apr 17 at 23:40
  • @Kevin I am unsure as to how global network peering actually works so I’m not quit sure what you mean. Surely when Russian internet companies set up shop in Crimea they had to make some sort of agreement with their global peers and regulatory bodies... Otherwise why would everyone cease to direct Crimea network traffic through the Ukranian companies and network? Or have they? – MichaelZ Apr 17 at 23:45
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No

Recognition of territorial claims is the sole province of the diplomatic branches of national government, and of heads of state. In the US it is the State Department, and ultimately the President. The actions of telephone operators and people engaging in other forms of communication cannot and do not bind the decisions of the President, or of other heads of state.

Besides, there may be cases in which a telephone country code or a web domain may not match the actual, undisputed legal status of a territory. Accepting a phone call does not affect a country's legal status.

For decades the US did not recognize the communist regime in China. Legally, it considered that the Republic of China (aka Taiwan) was the only valid government, and the acceptance of telephone calls did not change that.

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  • By your answer they officially wouldn’t, but in practice how would that be addressed in the courts and regulation? Would the existence of such websites, phones, etc., or their identifying characteristics be denied? (I am not sure if there is a technical means to block the propogation of such communication unless every other country were to block outbound traffic from Russia.) – MichaelZ Apr 17 at 4:09
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    @MichaelZ The existence of such websites and telephone numbers would not be denied, but it would not be considered evidence of the legal status of such territories. Only the official recognition or no recognition by tteh national officials and ultimately by the President (in the US) would be officially considered; the phone code or web code simply is not considered to define the legal nationality. – David Siegel Apr 17 at 4:16
  • Hmmm.. so a de jure no, but a de facto yes? – MichaelZ Apr 17 at 4:24
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    @MichaelZ It could be thought of that way, but even on a de facto basis telephone codes would not be determative or even highly persuasive. A military occupation, or the control of civil administration in practice is much more to the point. Often, of course, it will match the phone codes. – David Siegel Apr 17 at 4:39
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No

As a matter of international law, each country is free to accept or reject the territorial claims (and even the existence) of every other country.

Many nations do not recognize Russia’s claims over Crimea - it doesn’t change the facts on the ground. Similarly, many countries recognize China’s claims over Formosa (Taiwan), or the Palestinian claims of statehood - that also doesn’t change the facts.

Neither does accepting mail.

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